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Full text of "John Locke and English literature of the eighteenth century"

UNIVERSITY 
OF FLORIDA 
LIBRARIES 




COLLEGE LIBRARY 



Digitized by the Internet Archive 
in 2013 



http://archive.org/details/johnlockeenglishOOmacl 



JOHN LOCKE 

AND ENGLISH LITERATURE OF THE 
EIGHTEENTH CENTURY 



JOHN LOCKE 

AND ENGLISH LITERATURE OF THE 

EIGHTEENTH CENTURY 

BY 

KENNETH MacLEAN 



NEW YORK 
RUSSELL & RUSSELL • INC 
1962 



Copyright, 1936, by Yale University Press 

REISSUED, 1962, BY RUSSELL & RUSSELL, INC. 

BY ARRANGEMENT WITH THE AUTHOR 

L. C. CATALOG CARD NO: 62-10233 



PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA 




TO 
MY FATHER AND MOTHER 



PREFACE 

THE boo\ that had most influence in the Eight- 
eenth Century, the Bible excepted, was Locke's 
Essay concerning Human Understanding (1690). 
In an age when the proper study of mankind was man, 
the theories regarding the human mind set forth in the 
Essay necessarily affected religion, government, educa- 
tion, and literature. Sterne said that the principal influ- 
ences in his life were the Bible and Loc\e, and speaking 
thus for himself he spo\e also for many other men of let- 
ters of his century, particularly Addison, Pope, Thomson, 
and Johnson. But if literature owed a debt to Loc\e, 
Loc\e also had his obligations to Eighteenth-Century lit- 
erature for spreading the ideas of the Essay concerning 
Human Understanding. 

In this study I endeavour to show how the theories of 
the mind developed in Locke's Essay were criticized, 
adapted, and popularized by English literature of the 
Eighteenth Century. A boo\ which thus presents the lit- 
erary biographies of the most important philosophical 
ideas of that age will, I hope, be thought something "new 
and a little out of the way." In discussing Loc\e's ideas in 
literature I have followed the order and division of the 
Essay, which is summarized throughout this study in a 
way that may be useful to students of literature. 

Mr. Chauncey Brewster Tinker suggested that I ma\e 
an inquiry into Locke's importance to Eighteenth-Cen- 
tury literature, and from beginning to end my wor\ has 



vi John Locke and English Literature 

benefited by his scholarly advice and personal \indness to 
an extent which is hardly indicated by this brief acknowl- 
edgment. 

Mr. Norman L. Torrey, Mr. Lewis P. Curtis, Mr. Stan- 
ley M. Pargellis, and Mr. Maynard Mac\ have been \ind 
enough to read this study, and for their criticism I am very 
grateful. To several other friends I am indebted for a large 
measure of help, particularly members of the Department 
of English in Yale University. I should also li\e to than\ 
Mr. William C. DeVane, Dr. John F. Fulton, Mr. How- 
ard F. Lowry, and Mr. Charles C. MacLean, Jr., for the 
aid they have given me. To the staff of the Yale Univer- 
sity Library I would express my gratitude for their ever 
willing and friendly assistance. While preparing this wor\ 
originally as a dissertation which I presented for the de- 
gree of Doctor of Philosophy in Yale University, I held 
the Edward G. Selden Fellowship, for which I would 
again than\ the donor. 

K.M. 

New Haven, 
September, 1936. 



CONTENTS 



INTRODUCTION 



Locke's popularity in England, 1725-65, 1; Editions of the Essay, 2; 
Locke in France, 3; Style of the Essay, 5; Locke in the universities, 6; 
Opposition in literature to philosophy (Dry den, Swift, Prior, & others), 
8; Locke's reception in literature (Addison, Blac\more), n; Psychology 
in literature (Thomson, Pope, Johnson, & others), 11; Division of writ- 
ers according to philosophies, 14; Watts and Young, 14; The "satanists" 
(Bolingbro\e , Mandeville, Swift, & others), 15; The school of Locke 
(Fielding, Chesterfield, Richardson, Sterne, & others), 16. 

BOOK I — Neither Principles nor Ideas are Innate 19 

Locke's rejection of innate ideas (Voltaire, Gibbon, & others), 19; No 
innate morality (Shaftesbury , Mandeville , Voltaire, & others), 23; Books 
of travel, 28; No innate idea of God ("Spectator," Blac\mores "Crea- 
tion"), 28; Tabula rasa (Swift, Richardson, & others), 32; Gray's "Ode 
on Eton," 35; Education (Pamela, Mr. Shandy, Chesterfield, & others), 
36; Intellectual democracy (Goldsmith, Chesterfield, Adam Smith, & 
others), 39; Declaration of Independence, 44; Chesterfield and his son, 
45; Ruling passions (Pope & others), 45. 

BOOK 11—0/ Ideas 49 

Subconscious thought (Watts, Bolingbro\e, & others), 49; Simple ideas 
of sensation, 51; Sensibility, 54; The word "idea," 54; Eighteenth-Cen- 
tury imagination (Addison, A\enside, Watts, Sterne, & others), 55; Size 
of object and idea (Young, Sterne, Paine, & others), 57; Objectivity in 
literature (Johnson, Fielding, Thomson, & others), 59; Simple ideas of 
reflection (A^enside & others), 61; Wit and judgment (Dry den, Addi- 
son, Pope, Young, & others), 62; Sterne's criticism of Locke's definition 
of wit and judgment, 67; Reason in brutes, 68; The conservatives 
(Descartes, Addison, Young, Johnson, & others), 71; The liberals 
(Swift, Gay, & others), 74; Reasoning elephants, 78; Difference be- 
tween man and beast (Shaftesbury, Goldsmith, Wesley, & others), 79; 
Pleasure and pain (Addison), 82; Complex ideas, 83; Locke's idea of 
time and Tristram Shandy, 85; Passions (Pope), 91; Notions (Swift, 
Pope), 92; Primary and secondary qualities of matter (Addison, 
"Guardian"), 93; Hume and Berkeley on substance, 97; Relations 



viii John Locke and English Literature 

{Fielding, Sterne), 97; Personal identity {Scriblerus Club, Addison, 
Butler), 99. 

BOOK III—O/ Words 103 

Origin of words {Wordsworth, Scriblerus Club), 104; Names for sim- 
ple ideas undefinable, 106; Locke's blind man {Fielding, Swift, Watts, 
Johnson, & others), 106; Names for complex ideas confusing {Paine, 
Prior, Bolingbro\e, & others), 109; Abuse of words {Watts, Fielding, 
Sterne, & others), 112; Rhetoric {Mr. Shandy, Smollett, Paine), 114; 
Definition {Johnson, Scriblerus Club, Sterne, & others), 116. 

BOOK IV — Of Knowledge and Probability 119 

Reason {Sterne), 119; Foes of knowledge, 120; Imperfections of the 
mind {Sterne, Bolingbro\e , Swift), 121; Matter thinking {Bacon, 
Sterne, Johnson, & others), 124; Association of ideas {Dryden, A\en- 
side, Addison, Shenstone, & others), 128; Sterne's use of association, 
132; Boswell on association, 135; Extent of knowledge {Swift), 135; 
Knowledge of self, 136; Knowledge of material substance {Johnson, 
Swift, Sterne), 136; Natural philosophy no science {Johnson), 138; 
Knowledge of angels, 140; Chain of life {Addison, Young, Thomson, 
Wesley, Pope, & others), 141; Knowledge of God, 146; First Cause 
{Defoe, Yoric\, & others), 146; God's attributes {Addison, Bolingbro\e, 
Bacon, & others), 147; Probability, 149; History, 150; "Twilight of 
probability" {Paine, Butler), 151; The universal judgment of man- 
kind, and democracy {Hume, Johnson), 152; Reason and faith {Watts, 
Browne, Wesley, & others), 152; Enthusiasm {Hume, Sterne, Young, & 
others), 154; Limitation of knowledge {Watts, Bolingbro\e, Johnson, 
& others), 160; Morality a science {"Spectator," Bolingbro\e, Sterne), 
162; Sufficiency of knowledge {Thomson, Pope, Swift, Bolingbro\e) , 
165; Knowledge after death {Addison, Watts), 169. 

INDEX 171 



JOHN LOCKE AND ENGLISH LITERATURE 



INTRODUCTION 

THE young student entering an English university in 1730 was 
advised to study in his second year Locke's Essay concerning 
Human Understanding. 1 In 1734 the learned Queen Caroline 
ordered busts of Locke, Newton, Boyle, Wollaston, and Clarke to be 
made by the sculptor Rysbrack, and placed in her Grotto at Rich- 
mond. 2 Pope indicates that it was fashionable about this time for 
intellectual ladies such as Artemisia to read Locke, 3 while a pretty 
girl like Rufa, though chiefly interested in attracting young sparks, 
would nevertheless be holding a weighty copy of Locke when her 
portrait was painted.* In March, 1734, the Duchess of Queensberry 
wrote Swift to ask what should be done with her sons' schooling after 
they had passed the age covered by Locke's Thoughts concerning 
Education. 5 A complete discussion of this popular treatise on the in- 
struction of the youth brought the second part of Pamela to an eru- 
dite conclusion. If a benign Isaac Watts might in these years regard 
Locke as "the ingenious Director of modern Philosophy," 6 a malevo- 
lent Bolingbroke could likewise avow that Locke's philosophy "has 
forced it's way into general approbation." 7 In 1740 Thomas Gray 
undertook to make of the Essay concerning Human Understanding 
a Latin poem, which he affectionately referred to as "Master Tommy 
Lucretius." 8 Although Master Tommy "got the worms" 9 so badly 

Bibliographical Note. The text of Locke's Essay concerning Human Understanding 
used throughout this study, was edited by Alexander Campbell Fraser, and published 
in two volumes at Oxford, in 1894. "The text has been prepared after collation with 
the four editions published when Locke was alive [1690, 1694, 1695, 1700], and also 
with the French version of Goste [1700], done under Locke's supervision" {Essay, ed. 
Fraser, I, xiv). 

1. Daniel Waterland, Advice to a Young Student, London, 1730, pp. 22-3. 

2. J. F. Fulton, Bibliography of Robert Boyle, Oxford, 1932, p. 9. The busts are 
mentioned in a poem, Richmond-Gardens, appearing in the London Magazine, VII 
(1738), pp. 38-9. Cf. Pope, Moral Essays, IV, 77-8. 

3. Imitations of English Poets, VI, E. of Dorset. 4. Moral Essays, II, 21-4. 

5. Correspondence of Jonathan Swift, ed. F. E. Ball, 6 vols., London, 1910-14, V, 58. 

6. Philosophical Essays, Essay VI, introductory paragraph. This work appeared first 
in 1733. 

7. Wor\s, 5 vols., London, 1754, III, 329. 

8. Gray, Works, ed. Edmund Gosse, 4 vols., New York, [1895], II, 121, n. 3. 

9. Ibid., II, 121. 



2 John Locke and English Literature 

that he remained in fragment form, posterity was not left without a 
beautiful invocation to John Locke, beginning, 

Oh decus! Angliacae certe O lux altera gentis! 10 

An advertisement in the Covent-Garden Journal of April 14, 1752, 
stated that Fielding's Examples of the Interposition of Providence in 
the Detection and Punishment of Murder, a pamphlet which was be- 
ing distributed gratis, was particularly suitable for the young, since 

there is nothing of which Children are more greedy, than Stories of the 
Tragical Kind; nor can their tender Minds receive more wholesome Food, 
than that which unites the Idea of Horror with the worst of Crimes, at an 
Age when all their Impressions become in great Measure, a Part of their 
Nature: For those Ideas which they then join together, as Mr. Locke 
judiciously observes, they are never after capable of separating?* 

One has not read beyond the fourth chapter of Tristram Shandy, 
appearing in 1760, before being informed that the curious custom of 
winding up the house-clock the first Sunday night of every month 

was attended with but one misfortune, which, in a great measure, fell 
upon myself, and the effects of which I fear I shall carry with me to my 
grave; namely, that from an unhappy association of ideas, which have no 
connection in nature, it so fell out at length, that my poor mother could 
never hear the said clock wound up, — but the thoughts of some other 
things unavoidably popped into her head — and vice versa: — Which 
strange combination of ideas, the sagacious Locke, who certainly under- 
stood the nature of these things better than most men, affirms to have 
produced more wry actions than all other sources of prejudice whatso- 
ever. 12 

"Locke is universal," said Warburton. 18 

That the years approximately between 1725 and 1765 were the 
period of Locke's vogue is attested not only by such happenings and 
allusions, but also by the frequency with which the Essay concerning 
Human Understanding was reprinted during this time. Between 

10. Gray, Wor\s, ed. Gosse, I, 185. 11. Covent-Garden Journal, No. 30. 

12. Sterne, Tristram Shandy, ed. W. L. Cross, New York, 1925, p. 5. 

13. Letters from a Late Eminent Prelate [Warburton] to One of His Friends 
[Hurd], London, [1808], p. 207. Letter of March 3, 1759. 



Introduction 3 

1727 and 1760 it appeared singly in nine English editions, 14 and in 
four editions of Locke's collected works. 16 Latin versions appeared in 
London in 1701, in Amsterdam in 1729, and two years later in Leip- 
zig, 16 while the first German translations were printed in 1755 and 
1757. 17 Though an excellent French version of the Essay was issued 
in 1700, 18 twenty-five years later there were still copies of this edition 
unsold, 19 and the second authorized edition of this translation did 
not appear until 1729, after which, however, editions in French fol- 
lowed rapidly, in 1735, 1742, 1750, and 1755, 20 perhaps owing to the 
influence of Voltaire, who, in his visit to England from 1726 to 1729, 
discovered Locke, "a Sage at last," and popularized his philosophy in 
numerous writings, 21 especially his Letters concerning the English 
Nation. Voltaire was, nevertheless, hardly justified in claiming as full 
credit as he did for introducing Locke in France, 22 for the young 
dramatist Philippe Destouches had spent six years in England before 
1723, 23 and returned to his country to write a curious comedy entitled 
La Fausse Agnes, 24 in which the heroine, having feigned madness to 
escape the attentions of an undesired suitor, later establishes her 
sanity by explaining to the court the nature and extent of human 
understanding as defined in Locke's Essay. 

Vous voulez juger de moi! Mais, pour juger sainement, il faut une grande 
etendue de connoissances; encore est-il bien douteux qu'il y en ait de cer- 

14. 1729, 1730?, 1731, 1735, 1738, 1741, 1748, 1753, 1760 (H. O. Christophersen, 
"Bibliographical Introduction to the Study of John Locke," Skrijter Utgitt av Det 
Norsfa Videns\aps-A\edemi i Oslo, II. Hist.-Filos. Klasse, 1930, No. 8, p. 92). 

15. 1727, 1740, 1751, 1759 (H. O. Christophersen, "Bibliographical Introduction to 
the Study of John Locke," p. 88). 

16. H. O. Christophersen, "Bibliographical Introduction to the Study of John 
Locke," p. 97. 

17. Ibid., pp. 97-8. 18. Ibid., p. 27. 

19. John Morley, Diderot and the Encyclopcedists, 2 vols., London, 1923, I, 144. 

20. H. O. Christophersen, "Bibliographical Introduction to the Study of John 
Locke," p. 97. 

21. See Voltaire, he Philosophe Ignorant: (Euvres Completes, 52 vols., Paris, 1877- 
85, XXVI, <47)-95. 

22. See his letter of July 15, 1768, to Horace Walpole: "Je peux vous assurer qu'a- 
vant moi personne en France ne connaissait la poesie anglaise; a peine avait-on entendu 
parler de Locke. J'ai ete persecute pendant trente ans par une nuee de fanatiques, pour 
avoir dit que Locke est l'Hercule de la metaphysique, qui a pose les bornes de l'esprit 
humain" (Voltaire, (Euvres Completes, XL VI, 79-80). 

23. Jean Hankiss, Philippe Nericault Destouches, Debreczen, 19 18, pp. 402-04. 

24. Ibid., p. 135. 



4 John Locke and English Literature 

taines. . . . Avant done que vous entrepreniez de prononcer sur mon 
sujet, je demande prealablement que vous examiniez avec moi nos con- 
noissances en general, les degres de ces connoissances, leur etendue, leur 
realite; que nous convenions de ce que e'est que la verite, et si la verite se 
trouve effectivement. Aprcs quoi nous traiterons des propositions uni- 
verselles, des maximes, des propositions f rivoles, et de la foiblesse ou de la 
solidite de nos lumieres. . . . Quelques personnes tiennent pour verite, 
que rhomme nait avec certains principes innes, certaines notions primi- 
tives, certains caracteres qui sont comme graves dans son esprit, des le 
premier instant de son existence. Pour moi, j'ai long-temps examine ce 
sentiment, et j'entreprends de le combattre, de le refuter, de l'aneantir, si 
vous avez la patience de m'ecouter. 25 

The vogue of Locke's philosophy in France indicated by this passage 
was later observed by Goldsmith when in his characteristic survey 
manner he contemplated from afar the state of polite learning in 
Europe. He noted that 

The fair sex in France have also not a little contributed to prevent the 
decline of taste and literature, by expecting such qualifications in their 
admirers. A man of fashion at Paris, however contemptible we may think 
him here, must be acquainted with the reigning modes of philosophy as 
well as of dress, to be able to entertain his mistress agreeably. The 
sprightly pedants are not to be caught by dumb show, by the squeeze of 
the hand, or the ogling of a broad eye; but must be pursued at once 
through all the labyrinths of the Newtonian system, or the metaphysics 
of Locke. 26 

Fortunately a community of letters was developing in Europe in the 
second quarter of the Eighteenth Century which made it possible for 
France and the rest of the Continent to know and value the English 
philosophers whom England herself was then just beginning to 
appreciate. 

Since the Essay concerning Human Understanding was published 
in 1690, and Locke did not become popular until the second quarter 
of the Eighteenth Century, it is indicated that his philosophy was at 
first either ignored or opposed. The latter is the case. So immediate 
was Locke's recognition that four editions of the Essay were required 

25. Act III, sc. xii. 

26. Present State of Polite Learning (1759): Wor\s, ed. J. W. M. Gibbs, 5 vols., 
London, 1884-6, III, 493. 



Introduction 5 

by 1700, despite the fact that this work carried in itself certain obsta- 
cles to an easy reception, particularly a style whose bleakness is in- 
dulgently described as the inheritance of puritanical austerity. 27 Un- 
charitably Locke's prose is called dull, wooden, without elevation, 28 
when its intellectual beauty is forgotten. This beauty was apparent to 
Goldsmith who saw in Locke's style the same clarity and simplicity 
that characterized the understanding of the philosopher. 29 Allowing 
that the style is satisfactory, still the Essay was handicapped because 
the logic of many passages cannot be followed without considerable 
effort. "Pray, Sir," Sterne asked, "in all the reading which you have 
ever read, did you ever read such a book as Locke's Essay upon the 
Human Understanding? — Don't answer me rashly — because many, 
I know, quote the book, who have not read it — and many have read 
it who understand it not." 30 Formidable as Locke appears in many 
pages of this work, he will not wither before a blasting query of the 
Nineteenth Century, "How did the dreary devil stagger like Crockett 
to a 26th edition?" 31 

Despite the Essay's difficult logic and its possible want of style, 
Locke was not for a moment neglected. Coming as an apostle of 
peace to set an example of quiet thinking in an age of excitement, 82 
he suffered the ironic fate of exciting a religious controversy so in- 
tense that it might be considered a climax even for the turbulent 
Seventeenth Century. 33 A philosophy that denied innate ideas of 
God and morality and dared to suggest man's mind may be a mate- 
rial rather than a spiritual substance, a philosophy that proved hu- 
man knowledge limited and demonstrated the inferiority of the in- 
tellect of a being supposedly formed in the image of the Creator — 
such a philosophy was almost unanimously condemned in pulpit and 

27. Essay, ed. Fraser, I, 196, n. 2. 

28. Edmund Gosse, History of Eighteenth Century Literature (1660-1780), London, 
1889, pp. 96, 277. 

29. Goldsmith, Wor\s, ed. Gibbs, II, 447. 

30. Tristram Shandy, bk. II, cap. 2: ed. Cross, p. 65. 

31. Andrew Lang, quoted in Carl Becker, Declaration of Independence, New York, 
1922, p. 56. 

32. Thomas Fowler, Loc\e, London, 1909, p. 199. 

33. For a discussion of the controversy following the publication of the Essay, see 
H. O. Christophersen, "Bibliographical Introduction to the Study of John Locke," cap. 
1. An excellent bibliography of the scores of books and pamphlets relating to this con- 
troversy, may be found in the Cambridge History of English Literature, VIII, 530-4. 



6 John Locke and English Literature 

pamphlet. The opposition the Essay met in the church had a counter- 
part in the universities, particularly Oxford, which had previously 
deprived Locke of a studentship he had held for twenty-five years, 
because of suspected implications in the Monmouth plot. 34 Political, 
religious, and philosophical opinion combined to induce the heads 
of the colleges of this university to take measures, in 1703, that would 
prevent students from reading the Essay.* 5 Opposing such intoler- 
ance, John Burton, after his graduation from Corpus Christi in 
1717, 86 endeavoured to introduce the study of Locke's philosophy in 
Oxford, 37 with such litde success, however, that in Johnson's time the 
Essay was still read with caution. 38 Cambridge, dreaming in an at- 
mosphere of Platonism, 39 would hardly have noticed the Essay had 
it not been for the efforts of Anthony Collins, Locke's young dis- 
ciple. 40 The obvious neglect of the improvements in philosophy by 
England's richest and best endowed universities did much to provoke 
Adam Smith's long denunciation of all endowed educational insti- 
tutions, 41 which Gibbon gladly seconded. 42 The record of Trinity 
College, Dublin, is admirable when compared with the unprogressive 
attitude of England's universities, for there William Molyneux in- 
stituted the teaching of Locke shordy after the appearance of the 
Essay, 4 * with at least one significant result, that George Berkeley, 

34. Correspondence of John Locke and Edward Clarke, ed. Benjamin Rand, Oxford, 
1927, p. 18. 

Thomas Fowler, Locke, p. 40. 

Lord Grenville, Oxford and Locke, London, 1829. Lord Grenville defends the action 
taken by Oxford. 

Cf. Pope, Dunciad, IV, 196: 

"Each fierce Logician, still expelling Locke." 

35. Wor\s of John Locke, 10th ed., 10 vols., London, 1801, X, 277. See also X, 278, 
280, 282. 

36. DNB. 

37. De Vitd et Moribus Johannis Burtoni, S. T. P Etonensis, Epistola Edvardi Ben- 
tham, S. T. P. R., Oxford, 1771, pp. 9, 15. 

Thomas Fowler, Corpus Christi, University of Oxford: College Histories, London, 
1898, p. 174. 

38. C. E. Mallet, History of the University of Oxford, 3 vols., London, 1924-7, III, 
128. 

39. Essay, ed. Fraser, I, xxxiii. 

40. C. E. Mallet, History of the University of Oxford, III, 106. 

41. Wealth of Nations, ed. J. E. Thorold Rogers, 2 vols., Oxford, 1869, II, 357. 

42. Memoirs, ed. G. B. Hill, London, 1900, p. 54. 

43. H. O. Christophersen, "Bibliographical Introduction to the Study of John 
Locke," p. 28. 



Introduction 7 

who entered Trinity in 1700, was trained in this new philosophy. 44 
And long before Locke was admitted to the curriculum of the Eng- 
lish universities, young Jonathan Edwards was reading the Essay 
concerning Human Understanding at Yale, discovering in it at the 
age of fourteen greater pleasure "than the most greedy miser finds, 
when gathering up handfuls of silver and gold, from some newly 
discovered treasure." 45 

The adversity Locke met with in English church and school is 
interesting as it coincides with the response of the literary world. In 
the Defense of Poesy Sir Philip Sidney had argued that "the poet is 
indeed the right popular philosopher," 46 while a half century later 
the young Milton wrote: 

How charming is divine Philosophy! 

Not harsh, and crabbed as dull fools suppose, 

But musical as is Apollo's lute, 

And a perpetual feast of nectar'd sweets, 

Where no crude surfet raigns. 47 

This gracious and natural union of philosophy and poetry character- 
izing the ages represented by these quotations had no parallel in the 
years following the publication of the Essay concerning Human Un- 
derstanding, when, in the discerning words of Akenside, "Locke 
stood at the head of one party, and Dry den of the other." 48 The con- 
tempt of philosophy for the extravagance of poetry is not only im- 
plied but also spoken by Locke, who could not distinguish the ex- 
cesses of rhymers from those of gamblers. 49 Had poets been more 
sparing and cautious in the use of language, their works, he believed, 
"might be contained in a nutshell." 50 It is said that Malebranche, a 
typical philosopher of that period, "never could read, without dis- 
gust, a page of the finest verses; and that, although Imagination was 

44. W. R. Sorley, "Berkeley and Contemporary Philosophy," Cambridge History of 
English Literature, IX, 316. 

45. Quoted in H. B. Parkes, Jonathan Edwards, New York, 1930, p. 52. 

46. Defense of Poesy, ed. A. S. Cook, Boston, 1890, p. 18. 

47. Comus, 475-9. 

48. Mark Akenside, Pleasures of Imagination, II, 30, note. 

49. Some Thoughts concerning Education, sec. 174. 

50. Essay, HI, xi, 26. 



8 John Locke and English Literature 

manifestly the predominant ingredient in the composition of his own 
genius, the most elaborate passages in his works are those where he 
inveighs against this treacherous faculty, as the prolific parent of our 
most fatal delusions." 51 

The aversion of "men of cold fancies, and philosophical disposi- 
tions" for the intemperance and romantic exaggerations of poetry 
was returned in kind by the poets, who were irritated by the chafing 
restrictions and trifling investigations of philosophy. A precedent for 
dislike of metaphysics was well established upon Dryden's scorn for 
tedious quibbling and wrangling, indicated in the lines, 

Because philosophers may disagree, 
If sight b' emission or reception be, 
Shall it be thence inferr'd, I do not see? 52 

Crabbed philosophy, moreover, had come at the end of the Seven- 
teenth Century to be practically synonymous with religious contro- 
versy. While Dryden fostered polemics with The Hind and the 
Panther, "intended," Swift said, "for a complete abstract of sixteen 
thousand school-men, from Scotus to Bellarmin," 53 he preserved a 
distaste for philosophy which would have inclined him to overlook 
the Essay concerning Human Understanding even though Locke 
had been a schoolmate at Westminster 54 and was also a fellow mem- 
ber of the Royal Society. 55 The poet and philosopher might further 
have been united by reason that each was at one time assailed by 
Stillingfleet. 56 It should be remembered, however, that when the 
Essay concerning Human Understanding was published, Dryden, no 
longer a young man eager for new learning, had become very con- 

51. Dugald Stewart, Dissertation: Exhibiting the Progress of Metaphysical, Ethical, 
and Political Philosophy, since the Revival of Letters in Europe: Wor\s, ed. Sir William 
Hamilton, 11 vols., Edinburgh, 1854-60, I, 150. 

52. Hind and the Panther, 646-8. 

53. Tale of a Tub: Prose Wor\s of Jonathan Swift, ed. Temple Scott, 12 vols., 
London, 1 897-1 922, 1, 56. 

54. Thomas Fowler, Loc\e, p. 3. 

55. A. W. Ward, "Dryden," Cambridge History of English Literature, VIII, 9. 

56. See Dryden, Poetical Wor\s, Cambridge Edition, p. 980, n. 237, 1487. For 
Stillingfleet's controversy with Locke, see H. O. Christophersen, "Bibliographical In- 
troduction to the Study of John Locke," pp. 35-43: also Locke, Works, Vol. IV. 



Introduction 9 

scious of his age. 57 At the end of a life which had refused the lessons 
of philosophy, Dryden nevertheless recognized that "something new 
in philosophy and the mechanics is discover 'd almost every year; 
and the science of former ages is improv'd by the succeeding." 58 
Locke's Essay was probably not entirely neglected. 

Disgust for metaphysics lay in the inheritance and nature of Swift, 
who did badly in philosophy in college. 59 His realistic disposition 
objected to erecting edifices in the air 60 and indulging so deeply in 
abstract problems as the Laputians, whose "minds . . . are so taken 
up with intense speculations, that they neither can speak, nor attend 
to the discourses of others, without being roused by some external 
taction upon the organs of speech and hearing." 61 Yet among Swift's 
numerous outbursts against philosophy Locke is spared at least in 
name, and is conspicuously absent from the ranks of the modern bow- 
men, as the philosophers are called in the Battle of the Boo\s, though 
most of his associates are on the losing side of the conflict. Some un- 
acknowledged friendship may have existed between these men since 
Swift's patron, Sir William Temple, is quoted in the Essay concern- 
ing Human Understanding as "an author of great note," 62 and fur- 
thermore members of the Masham family, at whose manor of Oates 
Locke spent the last years of his life, were to become intimate friends 
of Swift. 63 An unacknowledged influence of Locke's Essay is most 
apparent in Swift's writings. 

Uncompromising disdain for philosophy is registered in Matthew 

57. Cf. Discourse concerning Satire (1692): "by a slip of an old man's memory" 
(Poetical Works, Cambridge Edition, p. 318). 

Prologue to Love Triumphant (1694): 

"An old man may at least good wishes give you" (1. 54). 
"To Sir Godfrey Kneller" (1694): 

"Old as she is, my Muse shall march behind" (1. 87). 
Preface to the Fables (1700): "I am already come within twenty years of his num- 
ber, a cripple in my limbs" (Poetical Works, Cambridge Edition, p. 741). 

58. Discourse concerning Satire (1692): Poetical Wor\s, Cambridge Edition, p. 289. 

59. John Forster, L/fc of Jonathan Swift, Volume the First, 1667-1711, New York, 
1876, p. 51. 

60. Tale of a Tub: Prose Works, ed. Temple Scott, I, (48). 

61. Gulliver's Travels: Prose Works, ed. Temple Scott, VIII, (163). 

62. Essay, II, xxvii, 9. 

63. See the many references to the Mashams in Swift's Journal to Stella: Prose 
Works, ed. Temple Scott, II, 489. 



io John Locke and English Literature 

Prior's long poem, Alma, which, after a delightful but futile attempt 
to locate the seat of the mind, concludes with the lines, 

Dear Drift, to set our Matters right, 
Remove these Papers from my Sight; 
Burn Mat's Des-cart', and Aristotle: 
Here, Jonathan, Your Master's Botde. 64 

Prior's prejudice against philosophy centered upon Locke, 65 who is 
most unfavourably represented in an imaginary dialogue with Mon- 
taigne, 66 for which the following verses were well intended: 

Lock, wou'd the Human understanding show; 

In vain he squanders Thought & Time and Ink. 
People themselves most certainly must know, 

Better than He cou'd tell, how they can think? 

I fancy things may quickly be agreed, 

If once for All we state our notions right; 
And I (thank gracious Heav'n) need never read 

One line that Thou, Friend Lock, did'st ever write. 

Sic argumentum pono: if my head 

Had been exacdy made, and fill'd like Thine, 

I shou'd have known what ever thou had'st said, 
Tho in Thy work I had not read a line. 

And if again, pray mind, Thy head and Mine 
Are form'd and stuff' d quite diff'rent from each other; 

I n'er shal understand one single line, 
Tho I shou'd read thy Folio ten times over. 67 

An interested antipathy for philosophy may well have been the 
corner-stone upon which Arbuthnot, Swift, and the young Pope 

64. Poems on Several Occasions, ed. A. R. Waller, Cambridge, 1905, p. 254. 

65. Prior succeeded Locke in the position of Commissioner of the Board of Trade at 
the latter's retirement in 1700 (Thomas Fowler, Locke, p. 94). 

66. "Dialogue between Mr John Lock and Seigneur de Montaigne": Dialogues of 
the Dead and Other Works in Prose and Verse, ed. A. R. Waller, Cambridge, 1907, 
pp. 223-46. 

67. "Verses Intended for Lock and Montaigne": Dialogues of the Dead and Other 
Wor\s in Prose and Verse, ed. Waller, p. 323. 



Introduction ii 

founded the Scriblerus Club, whose records, completed by 1714, 
abound in elaborate parodies of the fine points of the Essay concern- 
ing Human Understanding. 

In a time of such hostility Addison became Locke's champion by 
frequently reproducing in the Spectator sections of the Essay, and 
also by applying Locke's discoveries in a series of papers on the 
"Pleasures of Imagination." 68 The philosophical as well as literary 
merits of these essays probably induced Hume to venture that 
"ADDISON, perhaps, will be read with pleasure, when LOCKE 
shall be entirely forgotten." 69 Another supporter was Richard Black- 
more, the recognized enemy of Dryden 70 and Pope, 71 though it was 
perhaps not advantageous to Locke's reputation to have it supposed, 
as is still the case, that the Creation represented "his philosophy.. . . 
in a poetical garb." 72 The belief that Blackmore stands in the same 
relation to Locke as Lucretius to Epicurus 73 has no more foundation 
than that Creation was inspired by a single conclusion in the Essay, 
or that Locke had praised 74 what the physician-poet said regarding 
hypotheses in medicine in his Preface to the epic King Arthur. 15 

The literary importance Locke was to attain, foreshadowed in 
Addison's early appreciation of his philosophy, might have been 
prophesied from the title of the Essay. A study of the human under- 
standing and the workings of men's minds had a significance too 
universal to be long neglected by writers of English literature, how- 
ever predisposed to scorn philosophy. In reading the Essay concern- 
ing Human Understanding Bolingbroke confessed he was "led, as 
it were, thro a course of experimental philosophy. I am shewn my 

68. Spectator, Nos. 411-21. 

Addison succeeded Locke in the position of Commissioner of Appeals at the latter's 
death in 1704 (Johnson, Addison: Lives of the English Poets, ed. G. B. Hill, 3 vols., 
Oxford, 1905, II, 88). 

Cf. Thackeray, Henry Esmond, bk. II, cap. 11. 

69. "Of the Different Species of Philosophy": Essays Moral, Political, and Literary, 
ed. T. H. Green and T. H. Grose, 2 vols., London, 1875, II, 5. 

70. Dryden, Preface to the Fables: Poetical Works, Cambridge Edition, pp. 748-9. 

71. Pope, Dunciad, II, 259-60, 302, 370. 

72. H. O. Christophersen, "Bibliographical Introduction to the Study of John 
Locke," p. 108. 

73. Ibid. 74. Locke, Works, DC, 426. 
75. Richard Blackmore, King Arthur, London, 1697, pp. viii-xi. 



12 John Locke and English Literature 

self; and in every instance there is an appeal to my own perceptions, 
and to the reflections I make on my own intellectual operations." 76 
If Laurence Sterne were asked to characterize Locke's Essay, he 
would reply, "I will tell you in three words what the book is. — It is a 
history. — A history! of who? what? where? when? Don't hurry 
yourself — It is a history-book, Sir, (which may possibly recommend 
it to the world) of what passes in a man's own mind." 77 An exposi- 
tion of the mysteries of human understanding belonged not to phi- 
losophy alone but to all life. The new interest Locke's Essay excited 
in the operations of the mind is reflected in Blackmore's command, 

Turn on it self thy Godlike Reason's Ray, 

Thy Mind contemplate, and its Power survey, 78 

repeated by Akenside: 

Then to the secrets of the working mind 
Attentive turn. 79 

James Thomson, requesting nature to reveal herself to him, asked 
particularly that she explain 

. . . higher still, the mind, 
The varied scene of quick-compounded thought, 
And where the mixing passions endless shift. 80 

For Pope the proper study of mankind was man, and more specifi- 
cally the mind of man, how it receives and forms its ideas. Thus 
Milton's phrase, "darkness visible," 81 passes through Locke's proof 
that "one may truly be said to see darkness," 82 to become in Pope's 
Moral Essays, 

So darkness strikes the sense no less than light. 83 

This Eighteenth-Century interest in psychology is what Johnson is 
thinking of when he thus compares Shakespeare's age with his own : 

76. Works, IV, 164. 

77. Tristram Shandy, bk. II, cap 2: ed. Cross, p. 65. 

78. Creation, VII, 202-03. 79- Pleasures of Imagination, I, 520-1. 
80. Autumn, 1362-4. 81. Paradise Lost, I, 63. 

82. Essay, II, viii, 6. 83. Moral Essays, I, 53. 



Introduction 13 

Speculation had not yet attempted to analyze the mind, to trace the pas- 
sions to their sources, to unfold the seminal principles of vice and virtue, 
or sound the depths of the heart for the motives of action. All those in- 
quiries, which from that time that human nature became the fashionable 
study, have been made sometimes with nice discernment, but often with 
idle subtility, were yet unattempted. . . . Mankind was not then to be 
studied in the closet. 84 

To David Hume it appeared that this closet study of man and his 
mind was a particularly Eighteenth-Century and peculiarly English 
investigation, succeeding in point of time the Seventeenth Century's 
investigations of the physical world by Bacon and his contemporaries 
just as Aristotle's studies of human nature followed by about a cen- 
tury Thales' studies of the physical world. 85 

Many aspects of the life of this century were destined to be affected 
by the exciting revelations concerning the mind in Locke's Essay. 
Out of a new and sound interpretation of the character of a child's 
mind evolved principles of education that interested a father like 
Chesterfield and a mother like Pamela. Theories of government took 
psychological footings following Locke's analysis of men's under- 
standing. The Essay's explanation of the manner in which the human 
mind frames its idea of a God shifted the foundations of religion, 
while morality was altered by a restatement of human liberty and 
freedom. The objective quality of Eighteenth-Century literature is 
certainly owing in part to the fact that Locke's demonstration that all 
ideas originate in sensation induced writers to give almost undue 
attention to the external world. A single curious trait of mind elabo- 
rated in the Essay provided Sterne with an entirely new principle of 
literary composition. Few phases of life were untouched by Locke's 
fascinating discoveries concerning the nature and operations of man's 
understanding. 

The examination of the mind conducted in the Essay not only dis- 
closed the constitution and workings of the intellect, but also revealed 
the fact, never before stressed in philosophy, that human knowledge 
is limited. About this astounding conclusion all Eighteenth-Century 
thought was to revolve. Hume, many will agree, is the best source 

84. Preface to the Plays of Shakespeare: Wor\s, n vols., Oxford, 1825, V, 130-1. 

85. Treatise of Human Nature, ed. L. A. Selby-Bigge, Oxford, 1888, pp. xx-xxi. 



14 John Locke and English Literature 

for the intellectual history of his age, and this history he seems to 
have summarized almost perfectly in an essay entitled "Of the Dig- 
nity or Meanness of Human Nature," which reads in part: 

There are certain sects, which secredy form themselves in the learned 
world, as well as factions in the political; and though sometimes they 
come not to an open rupture, they give a different turn to the ways of 
thinking of those who have taken part on either side. The most remark- 
able of this kind are the sects, founded on the different sentiments with 
regard to the dignity of human nature; which is a point that seems to have 
divided philosophers and poets, as well as divines, from the beginning 
of the world to this day. Some exalt our species to the skies, and represent 
man as a kind of human demigod, who derives his origin from heaven, 
and retains evident marks of his lineage and descent. Others insist upon 
the blind sides of human nature, and can discover nothing, except vanity, 
in which man surpasses the other animals, whom he affects so much to 
despise. If an author possess the talent of rhetoric and declamation, he 
commonly takes part with the former: If his turn lie towards irony and 
ridicule, he naturally throws himself into the other extreme. 86 

So in the Eighteenth Century we find these two sects Hume has de- 
fined making an issue of the extent of human knowledge, a problem 
first investigated in Locke's Essay. One group, cherishing the dignity 
of human nature, was inclined to exalt the powers of man's mind, 
while the other faction with its turn for irony and ridicule was dis- 
posed to make mankind appear meaner by depreciating our faculties 
of understanding. The former group, led by Isaac Watts and Edward 
Young, refused to recognize the full restrictions Locke had placed 
upon the understanding, and on every question where preferences 
and opinions were permissible took the optimistic view that would 
enlarge the capacities of the mind and broaden the horizon of knowl- 
edge. A particularly significant position in mid-Eighteenth-Century 
thought was held by Watts, whose early admiration for Locke, re- 
corded in an occasional poem 87 and an ode upon Locke's death, 88 did 
not extend, however, to a complete acceptance of his philosophy. "His 

86. Essays Moral, Political, and Literary, ed. Green and Grose, I, 150-1. 

87. "To Mr. John Lock Retired from the World of Business": Hone Lyricee, London, 
1706, pp. 1 17-18. 

88. "To John Shute, Esq.; on Mr. Lock's Dangerous Sickness": Horce Lyrica, Lon- 
don, 1709, pp. 166-7. See also p. xxvi. 



Introduction 15 

Essay on the Human Understanding," Watts said, "has diffused 
fairer Light through the World in numerous Affairs of Science and 
of Human Life. There are many admirable Chapters in that Book, 
and many Truths in them, which are worthy of Letters of Gold. But 
there are some Opinions in his Philosophy, especially relating to In- 
tellectual Beings, their Powers and Operations, which have not gained 
my Assent." 89 By following Locke's methods of examining the mind 
and at the same time enlarging human knowledge, Watts could write 
a book of LogicJ^ that was at once welcomed in both universities. 91 ^ 
Locke's Essay, moderated and softened, also laid the foundation for 
his Philosophical Essays, which became one of the most popular 
works of the day. 92 Just as this worthy and accomplished divine made 
mild the Psalms in his translations, so he tempered Locke's severe 
philosophy to suit the more tender dispositions of his age. 

At the opposite extreme we find that other party described by 
Hume who were persuaded of the meanness of human nature, and 
hence would not be satisfied until the process of limiting the under- 
standing, begun in Locke's Essay, had been carried to completion. 
Of this number were Swift, Mandeville, Pope, and Bolingbroke, and 
one is tempted to include Gibbon and Paine though that might be 
unfair. Though Bolingbroke said he would proceed with Locke's 
assistance to analyze "the nature, extent, and reality of human knowl- 
edge," 93 he arrived at conclusions which may be considered degrad- 
ing to humanity. Similarly, the frequency with which Pope mentions 
Locke with respect and praise 94 might lead one to suppose that the 
philosophy of the Essay on Man is that of the Essay concerning Hu- 
man Understanding, when actually Pope's system is derived by plac- 
ing upon man mental disabilities never suggested by Locke. Because 
he entertained such a low opinion of man's nature and intellectual 
capacities, the tide of "Lord High Bogy-man" has been accorded to 

89. Philosophical Essays, Preface. 90. This work was published in 1725. 

91. Watts, Improvement of the Mind, Introduction: ed. 1741, p. 5. 

92. H. O. Christophersen, "Bibliographical Introduction to the Study of John 
Locke," p. 108. 

93. Works, III, 361. 

94. Moral Essays, IV, 139-40. 
Dunciad, II, Pope's note to line 140. 

Works, ed. Whitwell El win and W. J. Courthope, 10 vols., London, 1871-89, II, 
396, n. 1, for lines added to Essay on Man after line 262 of Book II. 



i6 John Locke and English Literature 

Mandeville, 95 with Swift certainly a very close rival. If the debase- 
ment of the human mind in the hands of this almost satanic group 
could in any way be made visible, it would appear perhaps the most 
spectacular phenomenon of the Eighteenth Century. 

But between these extremes of light and dark stands a large body 
of writers who, favouring neither omniscience nor nescience, saw no 
reason for elevating or lowering man's intellectual capacities from 
the level of common sense established in Locke's Essay. A most 
worthy disciple of Locke is James Thomson, who would spend the 
long winter evenings studying that philosophy 96 he has celebrated in 
Summer 91 and Autumn. 9 * Chesterfield belongs definitely in this 
group, and perhaps Richardson, since his approval of Locke is at- 
tested by his use in Pamela of the Thoughts concerning Education. 
Yet Pamela, commonly called the first psychological novel in English 
literature, was apparently written in ignorance of the Essay concern- 
ing Human Understanding, which contained the most popular psy- 
chology of the century. The Latin versification of the Essay places 
Gray firmly in the tradition of Locke, who also was the only modern 
philosopher valued by Fielding. 99 Near the end of his life Fielding 
put to good advantage the three volume set of Locke's Wor\s the 
publisher Millar had presented him in 1751, 100 when he endeavoured 
to expose the fallacies of Bolingbroke's philosophy. 101 In this piece of 
writing, "the most difficult ... he had ever undertaken," 102 among 
the accusations brought against Bolingbroke is the charge that he 
misquoted Locke, thereby doing violence to the expression of "this 
truly great man." 103 Goldsmith frequendy expresses equal admiration 
for Locke, 10 * while Johnson, who professed that metaphysics was his 

95. Mandeville, Fable of the Bees, ed. F. B. Kaye, 2 vols., Oxford, 1924, I, cxvi. 

96. Winter, 572 ff. 97. Summer, 1730 fif. 

98. Autumn, 1004 fi. 

99. W. L. Cross, History of Henry Fielding, 3 vols., New Haven, 191 8, III, 79. 

100. Covent-Garden Journal, No. 1. This set of Locke was in Fielding's library at 
the time of his death (E. M. Thornbury, Henry Fielding's Theory of the Comic Prose 
Epic, Madison, 1931, p. 183). 

10 1. Fielding, "Fragment of a Comment on Lord Bolingbroke's Essays": Wor\s, 
ed. J. P. Browne, 11 vols., London, 1902-03, X, (325)-39- 

102. W. L. Cross, History of Henry Fielding, III, 17. 

103. Fielding, Worhjs, ed. Browne, X, 337. 

104. Goldsmith, Works, ed. Gibbs, III, 162; IV, 125. 



Introduction 17 

favourite study, 105 must have been immediately attracted both by 
Locke's common sense and by the excellence of his Christian charac- 
ter. But the most industrious of all Locke's literary apostles in the 
Eighteenth Century was Laurence Sterne, whose use of the Essay is 
perhaps literature's finest tribute to philosophy. "On one occasion, 
Suard asked Sterne to explain his extraordinary personality — a tem- 
perament really stable and yet volatile to all appearance." With un- 
usual seriousness Yorick replied that whatever in his character might 
not be attributed to nature could be accounted for by 

certain acquired traits affecting mind and style, which had come from 
"the daily reading of the Old and New Testaments, books which were to 
his liking as well as necessary to his profession"; and from a prolonged 
study of Locke, "which he had begun in youth and continued through 
life." Anyone, he told Suard, who was acquainted with Locke might dis- 
cover the philosopher's directing hand "in all his pages, in all his lines, in 
all his expressions." 106 

105. Boswell, Life of Johnson, ed. G. B. Hill and L. F. Powell, 6 vols., Oxford, 
1934—, I, 70. 

106. Quoted in W. L. Cross, Life and Times of Laurence Sterne, 3rd ed., New 
Haven, 1929, pp. 301-02, from D-J. Garat, Memoir es Historiques sur le XVUl e . Siecle, 
et sur M. Suard, 2nd ed., 2 vols., Paris, 1821, II, 149. 



BOOK I 

Neither Principles nor Ideas are Innate 

THE first book of the Essay concerning Human Understand- 
ing undertakes to prove that man is born without any innate 
principles or ideas, and enters this world ignorant of every- 
thing. Although Locke professes that in the entire Essay he works 
merely "as an under-labourer in clearing the ground a little, and re- 
moving some of the rubbish that lies in the way to knowledge," 1 he is 
particularly active in this employment in the first of the four books, 
which throws aside innate principles and ideas and makes room for 
"those foundations which . . . are the only true ones, whereon to 
establish those notions we can have of our own knowledge." 2 Experi- 
ence is later shown to be the origin for all ideas, and for those as well 
which had been thought by Descartes and others to have been "nSes 
avec moi." z The conflicting philosophical theories are precisely de- 
scribed by Voltaire. Descartes, he says, believed that "the Soul, at its 
coming into the Body, is inform'd with the whole Series of meta- 
physical Notions; knowing God, infinite Space, possessing all ab- 
stract Ideas; in a Word, completely endued with the most sublime 
Lights, which it unhappily forgets at its issuing from the Womb." 
But, with regard to himself, Voltaire boasted that he was as little 
inclined as Mr. Locke "to fancy that some Weeks after I was con- 
ceiv'd, I was a very learned Soul; knowing at that Time a thousand 
Things which I forgot at my Birth; and possessing when in the 
Womb, (tho' to no Manner of Purpose,) Knowledge which I lost 
the Instant I had occasion for it; and which I have never since been 
able to recover perfecdy."* 

This denial of innate ideas, thoroughly consistent with the appar- 
ent rationalism of Locke's philosophy, serves to banish much mystery 
from the mind of man and tends to break human contact and fa- 

i. Essay, ed. Fraser, I, 14. 2. Essay, I, iii, 26. 

3. Quoted in Locke, Essay, ed. Fraseiy I, (37), n. 1. 

4. Letters concerning the English Nation, London, 1733, pp. 97-100 passim. Let- 
ter 13. 



20 John Locke and English Literature 

miliarity with the spiritual world. Further, it definitely questions 
God's benevolence and kindness even though Locke may affirm that 

the goodness of God hath not been wanting to men, without such origi- 
nal impressions of knowledge or ideas stamped on the mind; since he 
hath furnished man with those faculties which will serve for the sufficient 
discovery of all things requisite to the end of such a being; and I doubt not 
but to show, that a man, by the right use of his natural abilities, may, 
without any innate principles, attain a knowledge of a God, and other 
things that concern him. 5 

Shorn of innate ideas, a man, however, appears less perfect, less the 
image of his Creator, and thus an obvious inclination among certain 
writers who followed Locke to debase man and lower his already 
fallen state may have been assisted by the conclusions of the first book 
of the Essay concerning Human Understanding. Finally, if we will 
agree that the hypothesis of innate ideas "has waxed or waned, as the 
spiritual or the sensuous was most developed in the consciousness of 
the philosopher or of the age," 6 the denial of such ideas favours the 
material and sensuous world. 

Because of these implications it is not surprising that Locke's at- 
tack on innate ideas involved him in an extensive religious contro- 
versy, the progress of which may now be conveniently surveyed in Mr. 
H. O. Christophersen's recent Bibliographical Introduction to the 
Study of John Loc\e. Locke's position after the publication of the 
Essay may be compared, not too seriously, to that of the dramatist in 
Candide who is criticized because he "does not know a word of 
Arabic, yet the scene is in Arabia; moreover he is a man that does not 
believe in innate ideas; and I will bring you, to-morrow, twenty 
pamphlets written against him." 7 Innate ideas have a literary as well 
as a religious significance for the Eighteenth Century, although the 
literary importance of this hypothesis may be more apparent in the 
writings of other periods, such as Vaughan's and Wordsworth's. The 
literature immediately following Locke, however, abounds with no- 
tions of the mind as a tabula rasa, with democratic conceptions of 
mental equality, and with the idea of ruling passions, each of which 

5. Essay, I, iii, 12. 6. Essay, ed. Fraser, I, (37), n. 2. 

7. Voltaire, Candide, cap. 22. 



Neither Principles nor Ideas are Innate 21 

owes its rise in part to Locke's denial of innate ideas. A consideration 
of his treatment of this theory may therefore be useful. 

The Essay concerning Human Understanding begins with this 
sentence : 

It is an established opinion amongst some men, that there are in the 
understanding certain innate principles; some primary notions, koivcu 
ewoiai, characters, as it were stamped upon the mind of man; which the 
soul receives in its very first being, and brings into the world with it. 8 

Locke begins his attack by stating two fundamental speculative prin- 
ciples which we all might think innate, namely, "Whatsoever is, is," 
and "It is impossible for the same thing to be and not to be." His 
chief argument that these principles are not present in the mind from 
birth is not more abstruse than that such ideas are not to be found in 
the understandings of children and savages. Other more difficult 
proofs, to be sure, support this principal contention, but, though they 
may be philosophically more significant, they have not the engaging 
human interest of the argument that depends upon the observation 
of the minds of children, idiots, and savages. Locke's reasoning from 
the mind in its simplest forms must have made Pope realize that 

The exactest traits of body or of mind, 
We owe to models of an humble kind. 9 

The Essay asserts that 

children, idiots, savages, and illiterate people, being of all others the least 
corrupted by custom, or borrowed opinions; learning and education hav- 
ing not cast their native thoughts into new moulds; nor by superinducing 
foreign and studied doctrines, confounded those fair characters nature had 
written there; one might reasonably imagine that in their minds these 
innate notions should lie open fairly to every one's view, as it is certain the 
thoughts of children do. It might very well be expected that these princi- 
ples should be perfecdy known to naturals; which being stamped immedi- 
ately on the soul, (as these men suppose,) can have no dependence on the 
constitution or organs of the body, the only confessed difference between 
them and others. One would think, according to these men's principles, 
that all these native beams of light (were there any such) should, in those 
who have no reserves, no arts of concealment, shine out in their full lustre, 

8. Essay, I, i, i. 9. Moral Essays, II, 19 1-2. 



22 John Locke and English Literature 

and leave us in no more doubt of their being there, than we are of their 
love of pleasure and abhorrence of pain. But alas, amongst children, idiots, 
savages, and the grossly illiterate, what general maxims are to be found? 
what universal principles of knowledge? Their notions are few and nar- 
row, borrowed only from those objects they have had most to do with, and 
which have made upon their senses the frequentest and strongest impres- 
sions. A child knows his nurse and his cradle, and by degrees the play- 
things of a litde more advanced age; and a young savage has, perhaps, his 
head filled with love and hunting, according to the fashion of his tribe. 
But he that from a child untaught, or a wild inhabitant of the woods, will 
expect these abstract maxims and reputed principles of science, will, I fear, 
find himself mistaken. Such kind of general propositions are seldom men- 
tioned in the huts of Indians: much less are they to be found in the 
thoughts of children, or any impressions of them on the minds of 
naturals. 10 

To this long passage let us add but a few more of Locke's interesting 
comments on children. 

The child certainly knows, that the nurse that feeds it is neither the cat it 
plays with, nor the blackmoor it is afraid of: that the wormseed or mus- 
tard it refuses, is not the apple or sugar it cries for: this it is certainly and 
undoubtedly assured of: but will any one say, it is by virtue of this prin- 
ciple, "That it is impossible for the same thing to be and not to be," that 
it so firmly assents to these and other parts of its knowledge? Or that 
the child has any notion or apprehension of that proposition at an age, 
wherein yet, it is plain, it knows a great many other truths? He that will 
say, children join in these general abstract speculations with their sucking- 
botdes and their rattles, may perhaps, with justice, be thought to have 
more passion and zeal for his opinion, but less sincerity and truth, than 
one of that age. 11 

Children are perhaps not alone in their ignorance of these speculative 
principles, whose innateness could be of vital concern only to mathe- 
maticians since it would imply that all mathematical demonstrations 
are native impressions on the mind. "And few mathematicians," 
Locke says, "will be forward to believe, that all the diagrams they 
have drawn were but copies of those innate characters which nature 
had engraven upon their minds." 12 Isaac Watts, however, does con- 

io. Essay, I, i, 27. "• Essa y> ! » *> 2 5- 

12. Essay, I, i, 22. 



Neither Principles nor Ideas are Innate 23 

test the arguments in this chapter of the Essay, disagreeing with 
Locke on the ground that, while axioms may not be stamped on the 
mind, nevertheless God has so formed the human mind that it must 
judge according to such axioms as "Whatsoever acteth hath a Being." 
Therefore Watts concludes: 

I take the Mind or Soul of Man not to be so perfecdy indifferent to receive 
all Impressions, as a Rasa Tabula, or white paper; and 'tis so framed by 
its Maker as not to be equally disposed to all sorts of Perceptions, nor to 
embrace all Propositions, with an Indifferency to judge them true or false; 
but that antecedendy to all the Effects of Custom, Experience, Education, 
or any other contingent Causes, as the Mind is necessarily ordained and 
limited by its Creator to have such and such appointed Sensations or Ideas 
raised in it by certain external Motions of the Matter or Body to which it 
is united, and that while the Organs are good and sound it cannot have 
others, so 'tis also inclined and almost determined by such Principles as 
are 'wrought into it by the Creator, to believe some Propositions true, 
others false; and perhaps also some Actions good, others evil. 18 

A remark of Gibbon is interesting in connection with this discus- 
sion of speculative principles, those axioms which seem so true that 
we might imagine they were always the possession of the mind. "As 
soon," he writes in the Memoirs, "as the use of speech had prepared 
my infant reason for the admission of knowledge, I was taught the 
arts of reading, writing, and arithmetic. So remote is the date, so 
vague is the memory of their origin in myself, that, were not the 
error corrected by analogy, I should be tempted to conceive them as 
innate." 14 Into Gibbon's account of his education may be read the 
mild cynicism of one who feels that perhaps the Creator has been a 
little unkind in obliging man to earn his own intellectual living. On 
the other hand, Eighteenth-Century thinkers might consider them- 
selves self-made intellectually, as did Gibbon, and pride themselves 
accordingly in their accomplishments. 

Innate practical principles, by which are meant such moral rules 
as truth and justice, are the subject of the second and third chapters 
of this first book of the Essay. Locke's proof that there is no one moral 
rule which is actually engraven on the mind of man possibly ex- 
plains why Swift said that in the Human Understanding, "there are 

13. Philosophical Essays, Essay IV, sec. 3. 14. Memoirs, ed. Hill, p. 31. 



24 John Locke and English Literature 

some dangerous tenets, as that of [no] innate ideas." 15 If so, his state- 
ment is very temperate in comparison with Shaftesbury's undutiful 
observations upon his master's denial of innate moral truths. 

'Twas Mr. Locke, that struck the home Blow: For Mr. Hobbes's Char- 
acter and base slavish Principles in Government took oil the Poyson of 
his Philosophy. 'Twas Mr. Locke that struck at all Fundamentals, threw 
all Order and Virtue out of the World, and made the very Ideas of these 
(which are the same as those of God) unnatural, and without Founda- 
tion in our Minds. 16 

Locke had no intention of throwing all virtue out of the world, but 
merely observed that the absence of the moral rules of justice, piety, 
equity, chastity and the like in several supposedly civilized countries 
gave certain proof that these principles were not innate in all men. 
It is with this in mind that he writes: 

Robberies, murders, rapes, are the sports of men set at liberty from punish- 
ment and censure. Have there not been whole nations, and those of the 
most civilized people, amongst whom the exposing their children, and 
leaving them in the fields to perish by want or wild beasts has been the 
practice; as little condemned or scrupled as the begetting them? Do they 
not still, in some countries, put them into the same graves with their 
mothers, if they die in childbirth; or despatch them, if a pretended astrolo- 
ger declares them to have unhappy stars? And are there not places where, 
at a certain age, they kill or expose their parents, without any remorse at 
all? In a part of Asia, the sick, when their case comes to be thought 
desperate, are carried out and laid on the earth before they are dead; and 
left there, exposed to wind and weather, to perish without assistance or 
pity. 17 

To fortify his contention that moral principles are not innate and 
have no universal consent, Locke presents a long series of the worst 
enormities practised among civilized nations, which he had gleaned 
from those books of travel that furnish numerous illustrations for 
the Essay. From the same sources he draws his evidence that these 
moral rules which enjoy no universal assent among civilized peoples, 

15. Prose Wor\s, ed. Temple Scott, III, 1 13-14. 

16. Several Letters Written by a Noble Lord to a Young Man at the University, Lon- 
don, 17 1 6. Letter of June 3, 1709. 

17. Essay, I, ii, 9. 



Neither Principles nor Ideas are Innate 25 

are also absent from the savage mind. After several illustrations of 
the moral baseness that may exist in primitive communities, he con- 
cludes: 

When it shall be made out that men ignorant of words, or untaught by 
the laws and customs of their country, know that it is part of the worship 
of God, not to kill another man; not to know more women than one; not 
to procure abortion; not to expose their children; not to take from another 
what is his, though we want it ourselves, but on the contrary, relieve and 
supply his wants; and whenever we have done the contrary we ought to 
repent, be sorry, and resolve to do so no more; — when I say, all men shall 
be proved actually to know and allow all these and a thousand other such 
rules, all of which come under these two general words . . . virtutes et 
peccata, virtues and sins, there will be more reason for admitting these 
and the like, for common notions and practical principles. 18 

In the place of innate principles of this kind Locke substitutes a type 
of educated morality, for "moral principles require reasoning and 
discourse, and some exercise of the mind, to discover the certainty of 
their truth." To supply the child with these moral principles which 
are wanting in its mind at birth is the first and most important task 
of education, Locke maintains in his Thoughts concerning Educa- 
tion, which grew quite naturally out of his consideration of the young 
mind in the first book of the Essay. 

It must have been disturbing in 1690 to read of Locke's denial of 
innate moral principles for that opinion placed him in the radical 
tradition of Hobbes, the terror of Malmesbury, whose well-known 
conviction that the state of nature is a state of war is equivalent to 
saying that man is born without any native moral principles to pre- 
vent him from preying upon his fellows. The more conservative 
Bacon obviously had maintained the doctrine of man's "primitive 
and original purity" 19 which had been corrupted through no fault of 
the Creator but by the bad decisions of a free being in a garden of 
Eden. Mandeville, exaggerating Locke's dangerous position, con- 
tended in the Fable of the Bees that vices, not virtues, are innate, "that 
real Virtue requires a Conquest over untaught Nature." 20 This tri- 

18. Essay, I, ii, 19. 

19. Of the Dignity and Advancement of Learning: Philosophical Works, ed. J. M. 
Robertson, London, 1905, p. 632. 

20. Fable of the Bees, cd. Kaye, II, 127. 



26 John Locke and English Literature 

umph of reason over nature, which Locke and any moral man who 
denies innate ideas must think possible, appeared to Mandeville to 
be impossible, and from an economic standpoint undesirable, for 
man's various innate vices are what cause him to demand many of 
the cosdy material objects produced by industry. 21 Let virtue and 
goodness triumph, and trade and commerce would suffer. Therefore 
if we would have a prosperous hive, we should make no effort to be 
a good hive, but instead permit our selfish nature to demand the satis- 
fying luxuries supplied by commerce. Fortunately the English heart 
rejected these intellectual economics by which wealth accumulates 
and men decay. 

Voltaire, finding innate moral principles as incredible as Mande- 
ville, ridicules this optimistic philosophy through the character of 
Pangloss who is naive enough to believe in man's original goodness. 
Not without a good deal of common sense Dr. Pangloss argues: 

It is more likely . . . mankind have a litde corrupted nature, for they 
were not born wolves, and they have become wolves; God has given them 
neither cannon of four-and-twenty pounders, nor bayonets; and yet they 
have made cannon and bayonets to destroy one another. 22 

Innate ideas are less successful in a later and no less amusing discus- 
sion in the same book, which Candide himself introduces by saying: 

"Do you believe . . . that men have always massacred each other as 
they do to-day, that they have always been liars, cheats, traitors, ingrates, 
brigands, idiots, thieves, scoundrels, gluttons, drunkards, misers, envious, 
ambitious, bloody-minded, calumniators, debauchees, fanatics, hypocrites, 
and fools?" 

"Do you believe," said Martin, "that hawks have always eaten pigeons 
when they have found them?" 

"Yes, without doubt," said Candide. 

"Well, then," said Martin, "if hawks have always had the same char- 
acter why should you imagine that men have changed theirs?" 

"Oh!" said Candide, "there is a vast deal of difference, for free will — " 23 

Candide's suggestion, which Voltaire does not give him time to de- 
velop, is of course the Christian assumption, held by Bacon, that man 

21. Fable of the Bees, ed. Kaye, I, 355. 22. Candide, cap. 4. 

23. Ibid., cap. 21. 



Neither Principles nor Ideas are Innate 27 

was born with a knowledge of what was right, but with freedom to 
do quite otherwise. 

A denial of innate ideas was of course immediately acceptable in 
Mandeville's and Voltaire's scheme of things, but at the same time it 
formed a corner-stone of the philosophical thought of such orthodox 
Christian philosophers as Bishops Berkeley and Butler and Dr. John- 
son. It was not a faith in the innate moral goodness of man which led 
Bishop Berkeley to undertake the founding of a college in the Ber- 
mudas whence Christian principles might radiate over the American 
continent. Rather Berkeley thought that "no part of the Gentile 
world are so inhuman and barbarous as the savage Americans," 
their "chief employment and delight consisting in cruelty and re- 
venge." 24 Dark Indian hearts needed the teaching of the moral truths 
which Berkeley hoped to bring them. Both Buder 25 and Johnson be- 
lieved that virtue is not natural to man, and in consequence both 
emphasized the possibility and necessity of developing a rational 
morality of principles to make up for the want of an instinctive mo- 
rality. Typical of Johnson's conversation is the statement, "Pity is 
not natural to man. Children are always cruel. Savages are always 
cruel. Pity is acquired and improved by the cultivation of reason." 26 
This opinion Johnson introduces into his criticism of Karnes's 
Sketches of the History of Man, in which he says 

it is maintained that virtue is natural to man, and that if we would but 
consult our own hearts we should be virtuous. Now after consulting our 
own hearts all we can, and with all the helps we have, we find how few 
of us are virtuous. This is saying a thing which all mankind know not to 
be true. 27 

Goldsmith, though he does not often echo Johnson, is at one with 
him on the issue of innate moral principles when he remarks : 

Observe the brown savage of Thibet . . . : rapine and cruelty are scarcely 
crimes in his eye; neither pity nor tenderness, which ennoble every virtue, 

24. Proposal for a College in Bermuda: Wor\s, ed. A. C. Fraser, 4 vols., Oxford, 
1901, IV, 361. See also Siris, sec. 308 ff. 

25. Analogy, I, v, 15, 22. 

26. Boswell, Life of Johnson, ed. Hill and Powell, I, 437. 

27. Ibid., Ill, 352. See also I, 443; II, 198. 



28 John Locke and English Literature 

have any place in his heart; he hates his enemies, and kills those he 
subdues. 28 

To the number of conservative thinkers of the middle of the century 
who followed Locke in denying innate ideas one may add, on the 
authority of Leslie Stephen, Law, Wesley, and Cowper. 29 The radi- 
cal opinion of an earlier period thus became the conservative doctrine 
of a later. 

While there was unquestionable judgment in Locke's conclusions 
that moral ideas are not imprinted on the mind but develop with a 
proper use of our mental faculties, nevertheless for the credence he 
gave to the testimony of books of travel as proof that no single moral 
idea is innate, he may deserve the criticism of Shaftesbury's sharp 
remark: "THEN comes the credulous Mr. LOCKE with his Indian, 
Barbarian Stories of wild Nations, that have no such Idea, (as Travel- 
lers, learned Authors! and Men of Truth! and great Philosophers! 
have inform'd him)*" 30 Swift satirized generally the ridiculous faith 
all philosophers gave to details of peoples' habits as reported by trav- 
ellers when he adds, after a minute description of some disagreeable 
details in the Voyage to Brobdingnag: 

I hope the gentle reader will excuse me for dwelling on these and the 
like particulars, which however insignificant they may appear to grovel- 
ling vulgar minds, yet will certainly help a philosopher to enlarge his 
thoughts and imagination, and apply them to the benefit of public as well 
as private life, which was my sole design in presenting this and other 
accounts of my travels to the world. 31 

The third and final group of principles whose innateness is ques- 
tioned by Locke includes those relating to God. Lord Herbert of 
Cherbury had given as the first two of five propositions which he 
considered to be engraven on man's mind: i. Esse aliquod supremum 
numen; 2. Numen Mud coli debere. 52 But the truth that "God is to 

28. Citizen of the World, Letter 11. 

29. History of English Thought in the Eighteenth Century, 2 vols., New York, 1927, 
I, 161; II, 419-20, 454. 

30. Several Letters Written by a Noble Lord to a Young Man at the University, Let- 
ter of June 3, 1709. 

31. Gulliver's Travels: Prose Works, ed. Temple Scott, VIII, 96. 

32. Essay, I, ii, 15. 



Neither Principles nor Ideas are Innate 29 

be worshipped" cannot be an innate idea, Locke argues, because chil- 
dren have no conception of the meaning of worship. There is a pas- 
sage in Dryden's Discourse concerning Satire, that appeared in 1692, 
two years after Locke's Essay, which seems to imply that worship is 
not innate. In describing certain Grecian customs Dryden wrote: 

Festivals and holidays soon succeeded to private worship, and we need not 
doubt but they were enjoin'd by the true God to his own people, as they 
were afterwards imitated by the heathens; who, by the light of reason, 
knew they were to invoke some superior being in their necessities, and to 
thank him for his benefits. 33 

The true meaning of the passage hinges upon the interpretation given 
to the word "reason"; if Dryden meant that worship was not instinc- 
tive in all men and came to the heathen only with the light of reason, 
he must be credited with a philosophical opinion more advanced than 
many he propounded. Addison, who was one of the most faithful of 
all Locke's disciples in literature, raises this problem of worship in 
an issue of the Spectator only to avoid it by refusing to state whether 
man's propensity to devotion is a "tradition from some first Founder 
of mankind, or that it is conformable to the natural light of reason, 
or that it proceeds from an instinct implanted in the soul itself." 84 
Although Addison hesitated to answer this question, it is to his 
credit as a philosopher that the problem of the origin of worship in 
man's mind once came to his attention. 

To prove that the idea of a Deity as well as that of worship is not 
imprinted on every man's mind, Locke returns to the argument he 
had used against innate moral principles, namely, that the idea of a 
God is not the possession of all people, civilized and savage. Speaking 
again from the information of those maligned books of travel, he 
says : 

Hath not navigation discovered, in these later ages, whole nations, at the 
bay of Soldania, in Brazil, in Boranday, and in the Caribbee islands, &c, 
amongst whom there was to be found no notion of a God, no religion? 
Nicholaus del Techo, in Uteris ex Paraquaria, de Caiguarum Conver- 
sion, has these words: Reperi earn gentem nullum nomen habere quod 
Deum, et hominis animam signi fleet; nulla sacra habet, nulla idola. These 

33. Poetical Wor\s, Cambridge Edition, p. 294. 

34. Spectator, No. 201. 



30 John Locke and English Literature 

are instances of nations where uncultivated nature has been left to itself, 
without the help of letters and discipline, and the improvements of arts 
and sciences. 35 

If God had struck the idea of Himself upon all human minds, it 
would be impossible for any people to be without a knowledge of 
Him. It is not surprising, Locke continues, to find the Siamites want- 
ing a notion of God, but even among civilized nations this idea has 
not universal assent, as evidenced by the case of China where "the 
literati, or learned, keeping to the old religion of China, and the rul- 
ing party there, are all of them atheists." 36 Locke supplements his 
argument against the assumption of an innate idea of God by calling 
attention to the variety of conceptions of the Deity existing among 
men, 87 and to the gross, low, and often pitiful notions of God enter- 
tained by some people, 88 circumstances which would not be possible 
had God imprinted upon the minds of all men a distinct idea of 
Himself. He concludes therefore 

that the truest and best notions men have of God were not imprinted, but 
acquired by thought and meditation, and a right use of their faculties: 
since the wise and considerate men of the world, by a right and careful 
employment of their thoughts and reason, attained true notions in this as 
well as other things. 39 

If we do use our faculties well, Locke assures us that we shall have as 
certain knowledge that there is a God "as that the opposite angles 
made by the intersection of two straight lines are equal." 40 

The number of the Spectator for Tuesday, May 27, 1712, written 
by Budgell, is given over to an attack upon atheism, and the first 
argument urged against atheists is "that the greatest and most emi- 
nent persons of all ages have been against them." 41 Among these 
great persons, along with Plato, Cicero, Bacon, and Boyle, Locke is 
also mentioned. Although the writer was correct in asserting that 
Locke was intolerant of atheism, it is hardly consistent that later in 
the article he should suggest that the idea of God is possibly "innate 
and coexistent with the mind itself," a supposition Locke would 

35. Essay, I, iii, 8. 36". Ibid. 

37. Essay, I, iii, 14. 38. Essay, I, iii, 15, 17. 

39. Essay, I, iii, 16. 40. Essay, I, iii, 17. 

41. Spectator, No. 389. 






Neither Principles nor Ideas are Innate 31 

never allow. This same paper reveals, moreover, how elements in the 
Essay concerning Human Understanding were being misapplied by 
the unscrupulous, for the writer states that men, eager to prove the 
non-existence of God, have been delighted to discover a people like 
the Hottentots, who have no idea of a Deity. Locke himself had 
mentioned the Hottentots, 42 but he employed the evidence that some 
nations were without a notion of God to demonstrate merely that the 
idea of God, whose existence is unquestioned, is not innate. 

The same year of this paper of the Spectator, 1712, Blackmore pub- 
lished his Creation, a philosophical poem whose inspiration certainly 
lies in the paragraphs of Locke's Essay that deny an innate idea of 
God. This is evident in the very first sentence of the Preface, which 
reads : 

It has been the Opinion of many Persons of great Sense and Learning, 
that the Knowledge of a God, as well as some other self-evident and un- 
contested Notions, is born with us, and Exists antecedent to any Percep- 
tion or Operation of the Mind. 43 

As an example of such a person of good sense and great learning 
holding this opinion he might have named John Donne, who 
preached that "The soul of man brings with it, into the body, a sense 
and an acknowledgment of God; neither can all the abuses that the 
body puts upon the soul, whilst they dwell together, (which are in- 
finite) divest that acknowledgment, or extinguish that sense of God 
in the soul." 44 But Blackmore confesses his own "Inability to con- 
ceive this inbred Knowledge, these Original independent Ideas, that 
owe not their Being to the Operation of the Understanding, but are 
. . . Congenite and Co-existent with it," and in this opinion which 
he had entertained for many years he was, he says, "afterwards con- 
firm'd by the famous Author of the Essay of human Understand- 
ing." 45 The seven books of Creation endeavour in progressive stages 
to prove the existence of a Divine Mind by a candid examination of 
the nature of the universe and man, without the help of any innate 
ideas. This philosophical epic is therefore a very well defined, if not 
popular, example of an aspect of Locke's influence. 

42. Essay, I, iii, 12. 43. Creation, London, 1712, p. (i). 

44. Donne, Works, ed. Henry Alford, 6 vols., London, 1839, II, 349. 

45. Creation, pp. ii, iii. 



32 John Locke and English Literature 

Innate ideas are further important in Eighteenth-Century litera- 
ture because there arose out of Locke's denial of such, several no- 
tions concerning the mind that received almost universal attention. 
The infant mind, if it has not been stored at birth with ideas of 
speculation, morality, and God, resembles a tabula rasa. Locke, who 
makes this supposition the basis of his philosophy, has a variety of 
terms for describing the blank state of the mind as it enters the world, 
first picturing it as an "empty cabinet." 

The senses at first let in particular ideas, and furnish the yet empty cabi- 
net, and the mind by degrees growing familiar with some of them, they 
are lodged in the memory, and names got to them. Afterwards, the mind 
proceeding further, abstracts them, and by degrees learns the use of gen- 
eral names. In this manner the mind comes to be furnished with ideas 
and language, the materials about which to exercise its discursive faculty. 46 

But he changes the simile frequently, likening the young mind now 
to a "white paper," devoid of any characters, 47 and again to a "dark 
room." "For, methinks, the understanding is not much unlike a 
closet wholly shut from light, with only some little openings left, to 
let in external visible resemblances, or ideas of things without." 48 
These various expressions have no special consequence, since each 
implies the same fundamental notion that the mind brings no ideas 
with it at birth. 49 

The theory of the tabula rasa has always been associated chiefly 
with Locke, and rightly, for it is fundamental in his philosophy. 
Although the Essay popularized the phrase, the tabula rasa itself is 
to be found in the writings of Aristode, and has reappeared in one 
form or another all through the ages. 50 Locke may have noted a 
similar expression in the "judicious" Hooker's Ecclesiasticall Politie 
(1594), where the soul of man is described "as a boo\ wherein noth- 
ing is, and yet all things may be imprinted,"* 1 An Elizabethan poem, 

46. Essay, I, i, 15. 47. Essay, I, ii, 22. See also II, i, 2. 

48. Essay, II, xi, 17. 

49. Cf. John Clarke, Essay upon the Education of Youth, 3rd ed., London, 1740, p. 2: 
"Sensible Objects . . . must store the yet empty Cabinet of the Mind with Variety of 
Ideas, as the Foundation and Materials of their future Knowledge." 

50. Essay, ed. Fraser, I, 48, n. 1. 

51. Quoted in Locke, Essay, ed. Fraser, I, 48, n. 1. Book I, sec. 6 of the Ecclesiasti- 
call Politie, in which this expression occurs, is cited in the Essay concerning Human 
Understanding, IV, xvii, 7. 



Neither Principles nor Ideas are Innate 33 

attributed to Donne but probably written by Sir John Roe, offers a 
parallel passage. 

The mind, you know is like a Table-book, 
Which, th'old unwipt, new writing never took. 52 

The "white paper" simile occurs in John Earle's character of "A 
Childe," in which the young soul is likened to "a white paper 
vnscribled with obseruations of the world, wherewith at length it 
becomes a blurr'd Note-booke." 53 Even restoration drama provides 
an example of a tabula rasa from Sir Robert Howard's play, The 
Vestal Virgin, Or, The Roman Ladies. 

Mind's like smooth Paper never writ upon, 
When folded up, by some Impression, 
Marks will remain it never had before, 
And ne'er return to former smoothness more. 54 

The theory of the tabula rasa in various forms was apparently 
common, but its unusual popularity in the literature of the age fol- 
lowing Locke may well be attributed to his influence. Dryden's poem, 
"Eleonora," written two years after the appearance of the Essay, com- 
pares the mind to "wax" in the passage on the education of the lady's 
child. 

At his first aptness, the maternal love 
Those rudiments of reason did improve. 
The tender age was pliant to command; 
Like wax it yielded to the forming hand. 55 

Surely the most artistic of the later interpretations of this idea is 
Leibniz's figure of "une pierre de marbre qui a des veines plutot que 
d'une pierre de marbre tout unie ou de tablettes vides, c'est-a-dire de 
ce qui s'appelle tabula rasa chez les philosophes." 56 Swift enlivened 
the notion with some freshness and spirit when he wrote: 

52. Donne, Poems, ed. H. J. C. Grierson, 2 vols., Oxford, 191 2, I, 404. 

53. John Earle, Micro-Cosmographie, ed. Edward Arber, London, 1869, p. (21). 

54. Act HE, sc. i. 55. "Eleonora," 218-21. 

56. Quoted in Locke, Essay, ed. Fraser, I, 48, n. 1. Leibniz's simile, however, im- 
plies innate ideas. 



34 John Locke and English Literature 

The mind of man is at first (if you will pardon the expression) like a 
tabula rasa, or like wax, which, while it is soft, is capable of any impres- 
sion, till time has hardened it. And at length death, that grirn tyrant, stops 
us in the midst of our career. The greatest conquerors have at last been 
conquered by death, which spares none, from the sceptre to the spade. 
Mors omnibus communis.* 7 

To see again how a drab philosophical proposition can assume 
warmth and life when it emerges in literature, let one observe the 
references to the tabula rasa in the letters of Pamela, who acquired 
her knowledge about the minds of children by reading Locke's 
Thoughts concerning Education, presented to her by Mr. B. In imi- 
tation of Locke she compiled her own list of rules to be followed dur- 
ing the first years of the child's life when "the little buds of their 
minds will begin to open, and their watchful mamma will be em- 
ployed, like a skilful gardener, in assisting and encouraging the 
charming flower, through its several hopeful stages, to perfection." 58 
For the simile of the flower she substitutes another in recommending 
that parents be careful not to "indulge their children in bad habits, 
and give them their head, at a time when, like wax, their tender minds 
may be moulded into what shape they please." 69 

Other contemporary references are frequent in which the notion 
of the tabula rasa is intended, though none of the familiar figures 
are employed. An instance is in Blackmore's Creation. 

When Man with Reason dignify'd is born, 

No Images his naked Mind adorn: 

No Sciences or Arts enrich his Brain, 

Nor Fancy yet displays her pictur'd Train. 

He no Innate Ideas can discern, 

Of Knowledge destitute, tho' apt to learn. 60 

The mind would remain destitute of knowledge, Bolingbroke ex- 
plains, if experience and sensation did not furnish it with ideas. 

57. Tritical Essay upon the Faculties of the Mind: Prose Works, ed. Temple Scott, I, 
295. 

58. Richardson, Pamela, Letter 90: Worhjs, ed. Leslie Stephen, 12 vols., London, 
1883-4, m, 297. 

59. Ibid., Letter 95: Wor\s, ed. Stephen, III, 330. 60. Creation, VII, 228-33. 



Neither Principles nor Ideas are Innate 35 

A jog, a knock, a thrust from without is not knowledge. No. But, if we 
did not perceive these jogs, knocks, and thrusts from without, we should 
remain as we came into the world, void even of the first elements of 
knowledge. 61 

The total emptiness of the infant mind is again represented in the 
following four lines of the Anti-Lucretius, 

The figures, which must actuate her, remain 
As yet quite uncollected in the brain; 
Exterior objects have not furnish'd yet 
Th' ideal stores which Age is sure to get. 62 

The phrase, "the rude uninformed mind of a girl," 63 drops casually 
into a conversation in Tom Jones, while a similar expression, "a raw 
unprincipled boy," enters a discussion of education in Mackenzie's 
Man of Feeling. 64 

Gray wrote the "Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College" on 
the assumption that children are as ignorant as the tabula rasa theory 
would imply. 

Since sorrow never comes too late, 

And happiness too swiftly flies, 
Thought would destroy their paradise. 
No more; where ignorance is bliss, 

'Tis folly to be wise. 

So with sympathy he leaves the young lads of Eton to chase their 
hoops and play ball, not knowing their doom. It is of course rational 
to suppose that a man might consider children ignorant without ever 
weighing the problem of innate ideas or giving a thought to a tabula 
rasa. But it is evident that the conception in this particular poem has 
its foundation in Locke's philosophy. Gray's longest poetic writing 
consists of fragments of a didactic poem in Latin, De Principiis Cogi- 
tandi, written in 1740 and 1742, 65 and designed to put in verse form 

61. Wor\s, III, 364. 

62. Cardinal de Polignac, Anti-Lucretius, trans. George Canning, London, 1766, 
p. 401. 

63. Fielding, Tom Jones, bk. VI, cap. 2: Works, ed. Browne, VI, 296. 

64. Man of Feeling, cap. 21: ed. London, 1771, p. 77. 

65. Wor^s, ed. Gosse, I, 185, Editor's note. 



36 John Locke and English Literature 

the philosophy of the Essay concerning Human Understanding. His 
purpose is thus announced: 

Unde Animus scire incipiat; . . . 

Ratio unde rudi sub pectore tardum 
Augeat imperium; et primum mortalibus aegris 
Ira, Dolor, Metus, et Curae nascantur inanes, 
Hinc canere aggredior. 66 

Gray will explain how knowledge and reason develop in the rude, 
uninformed mind, bringing with them ideas of Anger, Sorrow, Fear, 
and Care. Observe then how these same four passions reappear to- 
gether in a single stanza of the "Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton 
College" that enumerates those things which the youth of Eton must 
later experience. 

These shall the fury Passions tear, 

The vulturs of the mind, 
Disdainful Anger, pallid Fear, 

And Shame that sculks behind; 
Or pineing Love shall waste their youth, 
Or Jealousy with rankling tooth, 

That inly gnaws the secret heart, 
And Envy wan, and faded Care, 
Grim-visag'd comfordess Despair, 

And Sorrow's piercing dart. 

In writing this ode Gray must have recalled the philosophy of the 
earlier De Principiis Cogitandi, and the ignorance of children which 
he names bliss must resemble that very ignorance in which Locke 
believed men to be born. 

The assumption that the child's mind is a tabula rasa places an 
immense responsibility upon education since all ideas can be acquired 
only by experience, or, in other words, by learning. Locke's own 
Thoughts concerning Education, published shortly after the Essay, 
illustrates the importance education immediately assumes in conse- 
quence of his philosophy. Martinus Scriblerus is perhaps the first 
child in English literature to be brought up with studied care for the 
development of his mind. So concerned were his peculiar parents for 

66. Works, ed. Gosse, I, 185. 



Neither Principles nor Ideas are Innate 37 

the cultivation of his intellect that they raised him on butter and 
honey since beef, fed to the young, was supposed to spoil the under- 
standing. 67 This amusing regulation is an excellent commentary upon 
an age that had become conscious that the mind could be elevated 
from natal ignorance to knowledge only by the most careful cultiva- 
tion. Tristram Shandy was doomed from birth to be in misery be- 
cause his father, realizing the necessity of education, had therefore 
investigated the problem so thoroughly that he reckoned it 

one of the greatest calamities which ever befel the republic of letters, That 
those who have been entrusted with the education of our children, and 
whose business it was to open their minds, and stock them early with 
ideas, in order to set the imagination loose upon them, have made so little 
use of the auxiliary verbs in doing it, as they have done. 68 

Mr. Shandy conceived that a series of auxiliary verbs set loose in a 
child's mind among a multitude of incoming ideas, would at once 
combine them into a number of thoughts that would increase by a 
geometric ratio. Pamela was a better parent than Mr. Shandy. Not 
schooled as was Tristram's father in the intricate suggestions of the 
Essay concerning Human Understanding, she had read simply 
Locke's Thoughts concerning Education and had discussed the phi- 
losopher's opinions with Mr. B. Her notions concerning the child's 
mind are therefore simple and clear, and the task of bringing up her 
seven offspring was not the burden which a single child had imposed 
upon Mr. Shandy. Filled with the pleasure of shaping the young 
plastic mind, she exclaims : 

What delights have those mammas (which some fashionable ladies are 
quite unacquainted with) who can make their dear babies, and their first 
educations, their entertainment and diversion! To watch the dawnings 
of reason in them, to direct their little passions, as they show themselves, 
to this or that particular point of benefit and use; and to prepare the sweet 
virgin soil of their minds to receive the seeds of virtue and goodness so 
early, that, as they grow up, one need only now a litde pruning, and now 
a litde watering, to make them the ornaments and delights of the garden 
of this life! 69 

67. Pope, Wor\s, ed. El win and Courthope, X, 291-2. 

68. Sterne, Tristram Shandy, bk. V, cap. 42: ed. Cross, p. 326. 

69. Richardson, Pamela, Letter 95: Worths, ed. Stephen, III, 336-7. 



38 John Locke and English Literature 

For Miss Catharine Porten, Gibbon's devoted aunt, it was, the his- 
torian tells us, "her delight and reward to observe the first shoots of 
my young ideas." 70 Here Gibbon is echoing surely that famous pasr 
sage of Thomson's Spring in which the poet describes the pleasure 
parents find in watching the development of their children's minds, 
when 

. . . infant reason grows apace, and calls 
For the kind hand of an assiduous care. 
Delightful task! to rear the tender thought, 
To teach the young idea how to shoot, 
To pour the fresh instruction o'er the mind, 
To breathe the enlivening spirit, and to fix 
The generous purpose in the glowing breast. 71 

It is part of the tradition that a line from this purely Lockian passage 
in Thomson should have been included in the Advertisement to 
Chesterfield's Letters to His Son, 

The instructions scattered throughout those Letters [the earliest ones], 
are happily calculated, 

"To teach the young idea how to shoot;" 
To form and enlighten the infant mind, upon its first opening, and pre- 
pare it to receive the early impressions of learning, and of morality. 72 

Few people have devoted the care and attention to the education of a 
child that Chesterfield bestowed upon his son, and his motive lay, I 

70. Memoirs, ed. Hill, pp. 37-8. 71. Spring, 11 50-6. 

72. Chesterfield, Letters to His Son, 2nd ed., 4 vols., London, 1774, I, xi. 

See J. E. V. Crofts, "Enthusiasm," Eighteenth Century Literature: An Oxford Mis- 
cellany, Oxford, 1909, pp. 147-8. The writer, asserting that Hervey's Meditations in- 
fluenced Cowper, says: "There is, at least, one verbal reminiscence in The Tas\. Her- 
vey, comparing education to gardening, says: — 'Let a holy discipline clear the soil; let 
sacred instructions sow it with the best seed. Let Skill and Vigilance dress the rising 
shoots; direct the young ideas how to spread.' This must have produced the notorious 
line: — 

'To teach the young idea how to shoot.' " 
Although the sources are probably confused, it is interesting to discover further repeti- 
tions of this conception. Thomson's popular verse is quoted in Boswell's Life of John- 
son when the author is discussing Johnson's talents for teaching. "While we acknowl- 
edge," he says, "the justness of Thomson's beautiful remark, 

'Delightful task! to rear the tender thought, 
And teach the young idea how to shoot!' 
we must consider that this delight is perceptible only by 'a mind at ease,' a mind at 
once calm and clear" (Life of Johnson, ed. Hill and Powell, I, 98). 



Neither Principles nor Ideas are Innate 39 

believe, in Locke's interpretation of the human mind. No one was 
more serious than Chesterfield in his recognition of the implications 
of the tabula rasa theory, that birth is irrelevant, and that knowledge 
can be acquired only by experience and learning. Consequently he 
writes to his boy: 

I am apt to flatter myself, that my experience, at the latter end of my life, 
may be of use to you, at the beginning of yours; and I do not grudge the 
greatest trouble, if it can procure you the least advantage. I even repeat 
frequendy the same things, the better to imprint them on your young, 
and, I suppose, yet giddy mind; and I shall think that part of my time the 
best employed, that contributes to make you employ yours well. 78 

This new stress on the education of the young apparent in the litera- 
ture and life of the Eighteenth Century may well have been the 
result of Locke's philosophy which had cast aside innate ideas and 
made experience requisite for all knowledge. 

In 1740 Mr. B presented Pamela with a copy of Locke's Thoughts 
concerning Education, and eight years later Chesterfield sent a copy 
to his son with the important passages marked to show him what "a 
very wise, philosophical, and retired man, thinks." 74 The century 
offers no stranger marriage of spirits than that of Richardson and 
Chesterfield, printer and peer, thus united by Locke's notions con- 
cerning the common mind of man. It suggests the truth that this 
philosophy was a levelling force and fostered intellectual democracy. 
The process of equalization begins, it appears, with the denial of 
innate ideas. 

Locke probably did not believe that all men possess when born 
equal intellectual possibilities, but his opinion cannot be determined 
from the following passage which is practically his only consideration 
of this problem in the Essay: 

that there is such a difference between men, in respect of their under- 
standings, I think nobody, who has had any conversation with his neigh- 
bours, will question: though he never was at Westminster-Hall or the 
Exchange on the one hand, nor at Alms-houses or Bedlam on the other. 
Which great difference in men's intellectuals, whether it rises from any 
defect in the organs of the body, particularly adapted to thinking; or in 

73. Letters to His Son, II, 174. Letter 151. 74. Ibid., II, 103. Letter 136. 



40 John Locke and English Literature 

the dulness or untractableness of those faculties for want of use; or, as 
some think, in the natural differences of men's souls themselves; or some, 
or all of these together; it matters not here to examine: only this is evi- 
dent, that there is a difference of degrees in men's understandings, appre- 
hensions, and reasonings, to so great a latitude, that one may, without 
doing injury to mankind, affirm, that there is a greater distance between 
some men and others in this respect, than between some men and some 
beasts. 75 

And yet Locke adds again, "How this comes about is a speculation, 
though of great consequence, yet not necessary to our present pur- 
pose." 76 The speculation is nowhere considered in the Essay, and the 
mind whose operations Locke endeavours to fathom is the common 
human mind, which he does not define but assumes to be the posses- 
sion of the great part of mankind. Although he recognized the vast 
differences that may develop between the understandings of men, his 
philosophy furthers intellectual democracy by laying heavy taxes and 
restrictions upon all minds. To all minds it denies the advantage 
of innate ideas, and taxes them additionally by greatly limiting the 
amount of knowledge that may be attained. Also, by attaching prime 
importance to sensation for the acquisition of ideas, this philosophy 
emphasizes the five senses that are common to all men. In these ways, 
and others we shall mention later, Locke levels all human under- 
standings. 

It is not difficult to find in the literature of the period following 
the Essay, or of any period, statements of the obvious inequality of 
men's intellectual endowments. Such may be seen in the writings of 
Dryden, 77 Addison, 78 Watts, 79 Pope 80 and others. Swift in Gulliver's 
Travels assures us further that a natural difference of mental ability 
is also discoverable among horses for they like men are not all "born 
with equal talents of the mind, or a capacity to improve them." 81 As 
an example of the conservative, sensible judgment of the day regard- 
ing the distribution of intellectual talents among humans, let us take 
the following passage from Goldsmith: 

75. Essay, IV, xx, 5. 76. Ibid. 

77. "To my dear Friend Mr. Congrevc, on his Comedy Call'd The Double Dealer," 
60. 

78. Spectator, No. 417. 

79. Improvement of the Mind, Part I, cap. 16: ed. 1741, pp. 236-7. 

80. Moral Essays, I, 15-18. 81. Prose Works, ed. Temple Scott, VIII, 268. 



Neither Principles nor Ideas are Innate 41 

We cannot agree in opinion with those who imagine, that nature has 
been equally favourable to all men, in conferring upon them a funda- 
mental capacity, which may be improved to all the refinement of taste and 
criticism. Every day's experience convinces us of the contrary. Of two 
youths educated under the same preceptor, instructed with the same care, 
and cultivated with the same assiduity, one shall not only comprehend, 
but even anticipate the lessons of his master, by dint of natural discern- 
ment, while the other toils in vain to imbibe the least tincture of in- 
struction. 82 

Goldsmith's statement, commonplace and uninteresting as it is, does 
imply that there were thinkers in the century who held the contrary 
and very interesting opinion that men are born with equal mental 
endowments. According to Boswell, 

Dr. Johnson denied that any child was better than another, but by differ- 
ence of instruction; though, in consequence of greater attention being paid 
to instruction by one child than another, and of a variety of imperceptible 
causes, such as instruction being counteracted by servants, a notion was 
conceived, that of two children, equally well educated, one was naturally 
much worse than another. 83 

Two statements could hardly be more contradictory than these just 
quoted from Goldsmith and Johnson. The latter in the same connec- 
tion said to Boswell on another occasion : 

I do not deny, Sir, but there is some original difference in minds; but it is 
nothing in comparison of what is formed by education. We may instance 
the science of numbers, which all minds are equally capable of attaining. 84 

From this we may conclude I believe that Johnson's familiar theories 
of subordination must have had a foundation other than psychology. 
This unreasonable and democratic theory of mental equality, which 
we are rather surprised to find Johnson supporting, was propounded 
by many Eighteenth-Century thinkers and in its most extreme form 
by Helvetius who, according to Morley, believed that 

of all the sources of intellectual difference between one man and another, 
organisation is the least influential. Intellectual differences are due to 

82. "Upon Taste": Wor\s, ed. Gibbs, I, 326. 

83. Boswell, Life of Johnson, ed. Hill and Powell, II, 437, n. 2. 

84. Ibid., H, 436-7. 



42 John Locke and English Literature 

diversity of circumstance and to variety in education. It is not felicity of 
organisation that makes a great man. There is nobody in whom passion, 
interest, education, and favourable chance could not have surmounted all 
the obstacles of an unpromising nature; and there is no great man who, in 
the absence of passion, interest, education, and certain chances, would not 
have been a blockhead, in spite of his happier organisation. It is only in 
the moral region that we ought to seek the true cause of inequality of 
intellect. Genius is no singular gift of nature. Genius is common; it is only 
the circumstances proper to develop it that are rare. The man of genius is 
simply the product of the circumstances in which he is placed. The in- 
equality in intelligence {esprit) that we observe among men, depends on 
the government under which they live, on the times in which their des- 
tiny has fallen, on the education that they have received, on the strength 
of their desire to achieve distinction, and finally on the greatness and 
fecundity of the ideas which they happen to make the object of their 
meditations. 85 

In the Essay on Man Pope suggests a belief in intellectual equality in 
discoursing upon the distribution of judgment and happiness. 

Equal is common sense, and common ease. 86 

Pope's philosophy is consistent with the democratic notions set forth 
in the Essay Lord Bolingbroke had addressed to him. Although Bol- 
ingbroke in his estimate of the capability of man's mind seems in the 
following instance to minimize the individual talents of Locke, his 
statement is nevertheless worthy and admirable. 

I know that, tho I can make some abstractions of my ideas, I am utterly 
unable to make such abstractions as Mr. Locke and other great masters 
of reason have taken it for granted they could and did make. . . . But 
I am conscious that there is no such power in my mind in any degree, and 
therefore I conclude, since we are all made of the same clay, a little coarser 
or a litde finer, that there is no such power in their minds. 87 

To find a statement more lavish in its expression of the equality of 
men's understandings, one may turn to another English peer, Lord 
Chesterfield, whose thoroughly democratic opinion that men are 
mentally equal is contained in the following sentences addressed to 
his son: 

85. John Morley, Diderot and the Encyclopedists, II, 153-4. 

86. Essay on Man, IV, 34. 87. Works, III, 441. 



Neither Principles nor Ideas are Innate 43 

Your health will continue, while your temperance continues; and, at your 
age, nature takes sufficient care of the body, provided she is left to herself, 
and that intemperance on one hand, or medicines on the other, do not 
break in upon her. But it is by no means so with the mind, which, at your 
age particularly, requires great and constant care, and some physic. Every 
quarter of an hour, well or ill employed, will do it essential and lasting 
good or harm. It requires, also, a great deal of exercise, to bring it to a 
state of health and vigour. Observe the difference there is between minds 
cultivated, and minds uncultivated, and you will, I am sure, think that 
you cannot take too much pains, nor employ too much of your time in the 
culture of your own. A drayman is probably born with as good organs as 
Milton, Locke, or Newton; but, by culture, they are much more above 
him than he is above his horse. Sometimes, indeed, extraordinary geniuses 
have broken out by the force of nature, without the assistance of educa- 
tion; but those instances are too rare for any body to trust to; and even 
they would make a much greater figure, if they had the advantage of 
education into the bargain. If Shakespeare's genius had been cultivated, 
those beauties, which we so justly admire in him, would have been un- 
disgraced by those extravagancies, and that nonsense, with which they 
are frequendy accompanied. People are, in general, what they are made, 
by education and company, from fifteen to five-and-twenty. 88 

With Chesterfield's observations belongs a passage taken by Fraser 
from Leibniz's commentary on Locke's Essay that reveals in one way 
the democratic complexion of the new philosophy. 

Quant a ceux qui manquent de capacite, il y en a peut-etre moins qu'on 
ne pense; je crois que le bon sens avec l'application peuvent suffire a tout 
ce qui ne demande pas la promptitude. . . . Quelque difference originate 
qu'il y ait entre nos ames (comme je crois en effet qu'il y en a) il est tou- 
jours sur que l'une pourrait aller aussi loin que l'autre (mais non pas peut- 
etre si vite) si elle etait menee comme il faut. 89 

With Chesterfield's observations belongs too the carefully weighed 
opinion of Adam Smith. 

The difference of natural talents in different men is, in reality, much 
less than we are aware of; . . . The difference between the most dis- 
similar characters, between a philosopher and a common street porter, for 
example, seems to arise not so much from nature, as from habit, custom, 

88. Letters to His Son, I, 339-40. Letter 115. 

89. Quoted in Locke, Essay, ed. Fraser, II, 446, n. 2. 



44 John Locke and English Literature 

and education. When they came into the world, and for the first six or 
eight years of their existence, they were very much alike, and neither their 
parents nor play-fellows could perceive any remarkable difference. About 
that age, or soon after, they come to be employed in very different occupa- 
tions. The difference of talents comes then to be taken notice of, and 
widens by degrees, till at last the vanity of the philosopher is willing to 
acknowledge scarce any resemblance. 90 

Intellectual democracy grew so naturally out of Locke's philoso- 
phy and fused so harmoniously into the political developments of 
the Eighteenth Century that one is tempted to suggest that the state- 
ment of equality which introduces our own Declaration of Inde- 
pendence implied an equality in mind as well as in civil rights, since 
the civil rights themselves are founded upon Locke's Second Treatise 
of Government, whose very form and phraseology Jefferson fol- 
lowed in drafting the American Declaration. 91 But, to return to Eng- 
lish literature, in view of the inclination to grant equal mental abili- 
ties to all men, we are impressed with the appropriateness of the 
celebrations of the common man in the poems of Gray and Burns, 92 
both of whom had studied Locke. This democratic philosophy could 
require no more fitting verses than 

Perhaps in this neglected spot is laid 

Some heart once pregnant with celestial fire; 

Hands, that the rod of empire might have sway'd, 
Or wak'd to extasy the living lyre. 

But Knowledge to their eyes her ample page 
Rich with the spoils of time did ne'er unroll. 93 

It is knowledge, Locke infers, and not superior talents of mind, that 
accounts for the vast differences between men, and knowledge de- 
pends solely upon opportunities for intellectual improvement and 
the advantage to which men turn their faculties. He believed that, 

had the Virginia king Apochancana been educated in England, he had 
been perhaps as knowing a divine, and as good a mathematician as any 

90. Wealth of Nations, ed. Thorold Rogers, I, 16-17. 

91. Carl Becker, Declaration of Independence, pp. 25-7. 

92. See Auguste Angellier, Robert Burns, 2 vols., Paris, 1893, I, 21. 

93. Gray, "Elegy Written in a Country Church-Yard." 



Neither Principles nor Ideas are Innate 45 

in it; the difference between him and a more improved Englishman lying 
barely in this, that the exercise of his faculties was bounded within the 
ways, modes, and notions of his own country, and never directed to any 
other or further inquiries. 94 

Since it is learning rather than a native capacity that generally sepa- 
rates one man from another, the moral issue behind Locke's attack 
on innate ideas and in the background of the entire Essay is the doc- 
trine of work. His philosophy is a constant summons to men to in- 
form their minds, to look abroad "beyond the smoke of their own 
chimneys," and employ to the full their mental faculties. Constant 
application, exertion and work alone can bring knowledge. This 
philosophy explains in part why Chesterfield was ever pressing and 
urging his son with such frequent exhortations as, "For God's sake, 
my dear boy, do not squander away one moment of your time, for 
every moment may be now most usefully employed." 95 The boy 
should not idle away any fifteen minutes that were unoccupied, but 
instead "take up a good book, I do not mean Descartes, Mallebranche, 
Locke, or Newton, by way of dipping; but some book of rational 
amusement; and detached pieces, as Horace, Boileau, Waller, La- 
Bruyere, &c. This will be so much time saved, and by no means ill 
employed." 96 In neither Locke's nor Chesterfield's time-scheme was 
there one Wordsworthian moment that could give us more than fifty 
years of reason and hard intellectual work. 

Whatever loss may have been felt by Locke's dismissal of all in- 
nate ideas might be remedied by the unfortunate provision he makes 
for innate inclinations and thereby for a theory of ruling passions. 
Although Locke does not use the expression "ruling passion," in this 
same book of the Essay, while disproving innate ideas, he says : 

Nature, I confess, has put into man a desire of happiness and an aversion 
to misery: these indeed are innate practical principles which (as practical 
principles ought) do continue constantly to operate and influence all our 
actions without ceasing: these may be observed in all persons and all ages, 
steady and universal; . . . these are inclinations of the appetite to good, 
... I deny not that there are natural tendencies imprinted on the minds 
of men; and that from the very first instances of sense and perception, 

94. Essay, I, iii, 12. 95. Letters to His Son, II, 7. Letter 120. 

96. Ibid., II, 334-5. Letter 184. 



46 John Locke and English Literature 

there are some things that are grateful and others unwelcome to them; 
some things that they incline to and others that they fly. 97 

This assertion that man has an innate desire for happiness and an 
aversion to misery is the first stage in the evolution of the theory of 
ruling passions. In continuing this theme in a later part of the Essay? 9 
Locke further observes that, in accordance with this natural desire for 
happiness and aversion to misery, the mind must always choose that 
which will give it happiness. Secondly, the thing which will give it 
happiness the mind recognizes by a feeling of uneasiness at its ab- 
sence. This uneasiness at the want of what the mind considers good 
must in every case determine the will, be it a desire for something that 
is actually bad. If then we will but call this uneasiness that directs our 
choice a passion, and the greatest uneasiness a ruling passion, we have 
one complete genealogy of the theory popularized by Pope in the 
Essay on Man and the Moral Essays. 

It was Pope's conception that we are born to ruling passions as the 
sparks fly upward. 

As man, perhaps, the moment of his breathj 

Receives the lurking principle of death; 

The young disease, that must subdue at length, 

Grows with his growth, and strengthens with his strength: 

So, cast and mingled with his very frame, 

The mind's disease, its ruling passion, came." 

Since nature has fastened these passions upon us at birth, Pope be- 
lieved that we could not subdue them, but must in a measure per- 
form the actions they impel us to. We not only cannot suppress these 
passions, but should not since nature has implanted them in our souls 
for ends suited to humanity. 

Hear then the truth: " 'Tis Heaven each passion sends, 
And different men directs to different ends. 
Extremes in Nature equal good produce, 
Extremes in man concur to general use." 100 

Locke supports Pope on the point that our choice is always deter- 
mined by the greatest uneasiness, or ruling passion. But the same 

97. Essay, I, ii, 3. 98. Essay, II, xxi, 28-45. 

99. Essay on Man, II, 133-8. 100. Moral Essays, III, 159-62. 



Neither Principles nor Ideas are Innate 47 

passage which reveals a source for Pope's doctrine also detects its 
fallacy. Although uneasiness commands the will, Locke asserts man's 
freedom to suspend his actions until his desires are elevated, "till he 
hungers or thirsts after righteousness," 101 so that the final uneasiness 
that directs his choice is a want of the greater good. This much liberty 
is not recognized in Pope's imperfect scheme, but it is most essential 
for the morality of Locke's philosophy. 102 Locke's sentence that best 
expresses his conviction that a man can control his actions and forbear 
a hasty compliance with his desires has a Johnsonian ring. 

Nor let any one say, he cannot govern his passions, nor hinder them from 
breaking out, and carrying him into action; for what he can do before a 
prince or a great man, he can do alone, or in the presence of God, if he 
will. 103 

"Cette remarque est tres-bonne/' 104 said Leibniz. Let us quote the 
actual words of Johnson of which we are reminded : "Sir, (said he,) 
we \now our will is free, and there's an end on't." 106 Blackmore has 
an equally sensible assertion of human freedom in the Creation. 

By her superior Pow'r the Reas'ning Soul 

Can each reluctant Appetite controul: 

Can ev'ry Passion rule, and ev'ry Sense, 

Change Nature's Course, and with her Laws dispense. 106 

But for Pope reason must give way before passion, and on his side he 
has the able judgment of David Hume, who asserted that "Reason 
is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pre- 
tend to any other office than to serve and obey them." 107 

This discussion may help to clarify the portion of the theory of 
ruling passions, as interpreted by Pope, that relates to the Essay 
concerning Human Understanding. But many of course overlooked 
Locke's common sense and succumbed to this deterministic view 
that put men in absolute subjection to their ruling passions. No aspect 
of Eighteenth-Century thought is so astonishing as the popularity of 

101. Essay, II, xxi, 35. 102. Essay, II, xxi, 53. 

103. Essay, II, xxi, 54. 

104. Quoted in Locke, Essay, ed. Fraser, I, 350, n. 1. 

105. Boswell, Life of Johnson, ed. Hill and Powell, II, 82. 

106. Creation, VII, 465-8. 

107. Treatise of Human Nature, ed. Selby-Bigge, p. 415. 



48 John Locke and English Literature 

this anti-rational conception of ruling passions which thus sets the 
intellect aside to leave us at the mercy of our passions. In the interests 
of industry Mandeville adopts this theory, being persuaded that 
selfish passions foster commerce and produce great, if not good, king- 
doms. 108 Chesterfield paid almost superstitious attention to the doc- 
trine of ruling passions, frequendy advising his son to "Search . . . , 
with the greatest care, into the characters of all those whom you con- 
verse with; endeavour to discover their predominant passions." 109 
And again, "Seek for their particular merit, their predominant pas- 
sion, or their prevailing weakness; and you will then know what to 
bait your hook with, to catch them." 110 Had Chesterfield's son met 
Hume for instance, he might, I suppose, in some way have taken 
advantage of the philosopher's love of literary fame which Hume 
confessed was his ruling passion. 111 Even Fielding may be charged 
with supposing that women are blindly led by the ungovernable pas- 
sion of vanity. 112 Amusedly Sterne sees Uncle Toby at the mercy of 
his tyrannizing passion for military operations. 113 In seriousness too 
Sterne can say, in a manner unworthy of his fine philosophical train- 
ing and close acquaintance with Locke's Essay, that Herod would 
have been a good man were he not an almost innocent victim of his 
ruling passion for power. 114 

The frequency with which Eighteenth-Century writers placed man 
and his reason at the mercy of his passions, particularly his ruling pas- 
sion, suggests that the age of reason might with more justice be called 
the age of passion. 

And yet, I swear, it angers me to see 
How this fool passion gulls men potendy. 

108. On the significance of the passions in Mandeville's economics, see Fable of the 
Bees, ed. Kaye, I, lxxviii ff. 

109. Letters to His Son, I, 275. Letter 95. 

no. Ibid., II, 53. Letter 129. See also Letters 80, 151, 177. 

in. Hume, "My Own Life": Essays Moral, Political, and Literary, ed. Green and 
Grose, I, 8. 

112. Tom Jones, bk. XVI, cap. 9: Worhjs, ed. Browne, VII, 423. 

113. Tristram Shandy, bk. II, cap. 5: ed. Cross, p. 71. 

114. Sermons of Mr. Yoric\, 2 vols., Oxford, 1927, I, 101-n. 



BOOK II 
Of Ideas 

ON approaching the second book of the Essay with its account 
I of the origin of all ideas, including those which some had 
supposed innate, it should be remembered that, although 
literature has taken from this as well as other parts of the Essay its 
most attractive theories and appropriated them with litde regard for 
their place in the general theme of Locke's philosophy, we are never- 
theless obliged to follow in oudine the sequence of Locke's argument. 
Without this framework of the reasoning of the Essay it would be 
impossible to indicate the meaning and significance of several lit- 
erary references. 

To proceed to a "wholly new and unborrowed" 1 history of the 
beginnings of human knowledge, it is first necessary to repeat Locke's 
definition of an "idea" as "whatsoever is the object of the understand- 
ing when a man thinks." 2 Whether simple "or complex, in either case 
an idea stands as one uniform object in the presence of the mind. 

The perception and contemplation of ideas, Locke maintained, 
require first of all consciousness. His statements that there is no 
secret method for ideas to steal unobserved into the understanding, 
and that the mind cannot contemplate and ponder ideas without ac- 
tive realization that it is thinking, constitute a total denial of the 
existence of what we today would call a subconscious mind. Believing 
that no thought could take place in the mind without our awareness, 
Locke said: 

I confess myself to have one of those dull souls, that doth not perceive 
itself always to contemplate ideas; nor can conceive it any more necessary 
for the soul always to think, than for the body always to move: the per- 
ception of ideas being (as I conceive) to the soul, what motion is to the 
body; not its essence, but one of its operations. And therefore, though 
thinking be supposed never so much the proper action of the soul, yet it 
is not necessary to suppose that it should be always thinking, always in 

i. Essay, IV, xvii, 7. 2. Essay, cd. Fraser, I, 32. 



50 John Locke and English Literature 

action. That, perhaps, is the privilege of the infinite Author and Preserver 
of all things, who "never slumbers nor sleeps." 8 

"Thus," to follow the words of the Essay, "methinks, every drowsy 
nod shakes their doctrine, who teach that the soul is always think- 
ing." 4 Those who contended that the soul always thinks even with- 
out our consciousness of the fact were the Cartesians, and here again, 
as on the question of innate ideas, it is to their philosophy that Locke 
is taking exception, though Bacon too had argued for the operation 
of the understanding during sleep, basing his opinion on the fact that 
the mind gives evidence of being clearer just before sleep. 6 

This problem of the mind offered a small meeting ground for the 
two forces we find for ever in conflict. On one side Isaac Watts, whose 
eagerness to elevate man's intellectual status was indicated by his 
defense of the innate ideas Locke had denied, continues to disagree 
with "this great Writer" by asserting that the soul does always think, 
even in that profound sleep which leaves no record of thought. The 
soul in this respect, he contends as he turns Locke's very words back 
to him, "bears a very near Resemblance to God, and is the fairest 
Image of its Maker, whose very Being admits of no Sleep nor Quies- 
cence, but is all conscious Activity." 6 Watts of course would have the 
support of Berkeley, to whose mind-dependent universe the assump- 
tion of a faculty constantly perceiving ideas was almost essential. 7 
Opposed to Watts stands Lord Bolingbroke, equally greedy for any 
fact that would lower the position of the human mind. Consequently 
he owns, 

since Locke has owned the same, that I have "one of those dull souls that 
does not perceive itself always to contemplate ideas." I distinguish very 
well between being asleep and being awake. I continue to live but not to 
think during the soundest sleep, and the faculties of my soul and body 
awake together. 8 

Voltaire gave his approbation to this contention, saying, "I shall 
boast that I have the Honour to be as stupid in this Particular as Mr. 

3. Essay, II, i, 10. 4. Essay, II, i, 13. 

5. Novum Organum, bk. II, sec. 26: cd. Thomas Fowler, 2nd ed., Oxford, 1889, 

p. 43i. 

6. Philosophical Essays, Essay V, sec. 3. 

7. Principles of Human Knowledge, sec. 98. 8. Works, m, 511. 



Of Ideas 51 

Loc\e. No one shall ever make me believe, that I think always." 9 If 
the approval of Bolingbroke and Voltaire does not permit one to rush 
to the conclusion that the Eighteenth Century was so Utopian that it 
was undisturbed by a subconscious mind, this much could be said 
in certainty, that the most popular psychology of the century ignored 
completely the possibilities of subconscious thought. 

With consciousness requisite for the perception of ideas, Locke then 
establishes as the two and only sources of all our ideas sensation and 
reflection, and the first and "great source of most of the ideas we have, 
depending wholly upon our senses, and derived by them to the un- 
derstanding, I call SENSATION." 10 Sensation offers to the mind 
certain simple ideas, simple because they contain in them "nothing 
but one uniform appearance, or conception," 11 and cannot be ana- 
lyzed and separated into different parts, though such a simple, in- 
divisible idea may come to us by more than one sense, as, for example, 
the idea of motion which we may both see and feel. In addition to 
motion, the other most significant simple ideas produced by sensation 
are space and solidity, because these are generally ingredients of all 
complex ideas. Yet there are multitudes of simple ideas belonging to 
each of the five senses, though Locke does not enumerate all of them, 
nor, he says, 



is it possible if we would; there being a great many mere of them belong- 
ing to most of the senses than we have names for. The variety of smells, 
which are as many almost, if not more, than species of bodies in the 
world, do most of them want names. Sweet and stinking commonly serve 
our turn for these ideas, which in effect is little more than to call them 
pleasing or displeasing; though the smell of a rose and violet, both sweet, 
are certainly very distinct ideas. Nor are the different tastes, that by our 
palates we receive ideas of, much better provided with names. 12 

In the reception of the simple ideas of sensation the understanding re- 
mains passive and is not much privileged to decide whether or not 
it will accept these materials out of which it later frames and invents 
by its active power complex ideas. 13 More fatal still, the human mind 
can invent no new simple idea at pleasure. New complex ideas, on 

9. Letters concerning the English Nation, p. 99. Letter 13. 

10. Essay, II, i, 3. 11. Essay, II, ii, 1. 

12. Essay, II, iii, 2. 13. Essay, II, i, 25; II, xii, 1. 



52 John Locke and English Literature 

the contrary, may be created by repeating, comparing, and uniting 
the simple ideas with which the mind is stored. "But it is not in the 
power o£ the most exalted wit, or enlarged understanding, by any 
quickness or variety of thought, to invent or frame one new simple 
idea in the mind." 14 The barriers continue to close around the human 
understanding with these two additional suppositions that the mind 
is resigned to admit simple ideas, and further that it can by no effort 
of its own invent one new simple idea. To these restrictions Locke 
has added, however, a sacred and religious significance by asserting 
that it has been ordained by God that external objects should "pro- 
duce in us such sensations 15 ... by established laws and ways, 
suitable to his wisdom and goodness, though incomprehensible to 
us." 16 While sensation is enthroned at the head of all human knowl- 
edge, it is at the same time sanctified with a definite religious dis- 
tinction. With this implication Butler is able to accept Locke's sen- 
sational philosophy, believing likewise that eyes and ears are "instru- 
ments of our receiving such ideas from external objects, as the Author 
of nature appointed those external objects to be the occasions of ex- 
citing in us." 17 

For making sensation the starting point of knowledge Locke has 
been accused of sensualizing human understanding, 18 and fathering 
a licentious philosophy that "the senses are the beginning and end of 
all our knowledge," with the result that he and his followers who 
assented to this philosophy have been indiscriminately designated as 
the "ecole sensualiste" 19 at whose principles Kant struck in his Cri- 
tique of Pure Reason by demonstrating that there is a reason wholly 
independent of the sensation and experience which Locke had as- 
sumed to be the foundation of all knowledge. 20 Whatever may have 
been the harmful influence of Locke's sense philosophy on the Conti- 
nent (and De Maistre does attribute the materialism and libertinism 
of Eighteenth-Century France partly to Locke), there is no indica- 
tion in English life, judged by literature, that this philosophy de- 
served to be stigmatized with any of the implications of sensualism. 

14,, Essay, II, ii, 2. 

15. Essay, II, xxx, 2. See also II, xxxi, 2; II, xxxii, 16. 

16. Essay, II, xxxii, 14. 17. Analogy, I, i, 17. 

18. Essay, ed. Fraser, I, 217, n. 2. 19. Essay, ed. Fraser, I, xiii. 

20. Dugald Stewart, Dissertation: Wor\s, ed. Hamilton, I, 394. 



Of Ideas 53 

Even Bolingbroke was temperate in his statement of the importance 
of the five senses in the acquisition of knowledge, quietly asserting 
that "sense was first in the order of mental operations, but that in- 
tellect was first in dignity." 21 

s 
Sense and intellect must conspire in the acquisition of physical knowl- 
edge; but the latter must never proceed independendy of the former. Ex- 
periment is that pillar of fire, which can alone conduct us to the promised 
land: and they who lose sight of it, lose themselves in the dark wilds of 
imagination. 22 

There is similar purity of thought in Gray's Latin lines of the De 
Principiis Cogitandi that picture the senses bearing ideas to the tem- 
ple of the mind, around which 

. . . coeunt, densoque f eruntur 
Agmine notitiae, simulacraque tenuia rerum: 
Ecce autem naturae ingens aperitur imago 
Immensae, variique patent commercia mundi. 23 

Whatever was vicious in the sensational philosophy of the age hardly 
vented itself beyond a ridicule of Platonism, sometimes severe as in 
Pope's 

Go, soar with Plato to th' empyreal sphere, 

To the first good, first perfect, and first fair; 

Or tread the mazy round his follow'rs trod; 

And quitting sense call imitating God, 24 

This satire, however, had more often the gentle nature of Richard- 
son's reminder that "Platonic love is Platonic nonsense," 25 seconded 
by Fielding's observation that "That refined degree of Platonic aflec- 
tion which is absolutely detached from the flesh, and is, indeed, en- 
tirely and purely spiritual, is a gift confined to the female part of the 
creation." 26 Perhaps Chesterfield's insistence upon "the Graces, the 
Graces" may seem to reduce life wholly to the level of sense. "Please 

21. Works, HI, 357- 22. Ibid., Ill, 385-6. 

23. Wor^s, ed. Gosse, I, 187. 

Cf. Blackmore, Creation, VII, 314-15: 

"Where sits this bright Intelligence enthron'd, 
With numberless Ideas pour'd around." 

24. Essay on Man, II, 23-6. 

25. Pamela, Letter 78: Works, ed. Stephen, III, 237. 

26. Tom Jones, bk. XVI, cap. 5: Works, ed. Browne, VII, 402. 



54 John Locke and English Literature 

the eyes and the ears," he advised his son, "they will introduce you 
to the heart; and, nine times in ten, the heart governs the understand- 
ing." 27 And it is with some feeling of moral alarm that we hear the 
gendy hedonistic Boswell say, "Let us cultivate, under the command 
of good principles, 'la theorie des sensations agreables.' " 28 But sensa- 
tion, far from having any generally malicious effect on English life 
and letters, was most probably greatly diverted into the mild chan- 
nels of sensibility, a word, it will be noted, that in England was "rare 
until the middle of the 18th century," 29 which was exactly the period 
of Locke's great popularity. Thus Sterne, in whose mind we are told 
the Essay concerning Human Understanding underwent a "sea- 
change," 80 sought all kinds of delightful sensation and experience, 
and praised the giver, "Dear sensibility! . . . Eternal fountain of our 
feelings! . . . — all comes from thee, great — great SENSORIUM of 
the world!" 81 These delicate feelings were politely cherished by an 
impeccable Sophia Western, who, when asked if she did love to cry, 
replied, "I love a tender sensation, . . . and would pay the price of 
a tear for it at any time." 82 Mid-Eighteenth-Century sensibility may 
well be an offspring of the "licentious" philosophy that had grounded 
knowledge in sensation. 

But Locke's philosophy, applied to the operations of the under- 
standing, solicited the attention of all men who regarded the manner 
in which ideas were brought to the mind. The numerous indications 
in literature that ideas were closely associated with external, sensible 
objects begin with the significant use of the word "idea" itself, which 
in some instances is made to stand for an object outside the mind in 
a connection which now seems unusual, as in Thomson's description 
of a dove whose mate has been killed. 

Again 
The sad idea of his murdered mate, 
Struck from his side by savage fowler's guile, 
Across his fancy comes. 88 

27. Letters to His Son, II, 166. Letter 150. 

28. Life of Johnson, ed. Hill and Powell, I, 344. 29. NED. 

30. Sentimental Journey, ed. W. L. Cross, New York, 1926, p. x. 

31. Sentimental Journey, "The Bourbonnois": ed. Cross, p. 161. 

32. Fielding, Tom Jones, bk. VI, cap. 5: Wor\s, ed. Browne, VI, 308-09. 

33. Summer, 617-20. The italics in this and the two following quotations are mine. 



Of Ideas 55 

Tom Jones obviously gives the word the same peculiar meaning 
when, finally meeting Sophia at Lady Bellaston's home, he confesses, 
"Though I despaired of possessing you, nay, almost of ever seeing you 
more, I doated still on your charming idea, and could seriously love 
no other woman." 3 * The idiom seems to suggest itself immediately 
in the case of any forlorn lover for we find Burns adopting it in an 
almost identical situation. 

Tho* cruel fate should bid us part, 

Far as the pole and line; 
Her dear idea round my heart 

Should tenderly entwine. 35 

This usage of "idea," which to us sounds awkward and strange, was 
perhaps natural in an age whose philosophy allowed external objects 
to be converted easily into ideas. / 

Another indication of the extent to which ideas were believed to be 
derived by sensation from without is found in the Eighteenth Cen- 
tury's conception of imagination. In his papers on the "Pleasures of 
Imagination" 36 Addison gives the true Lockian emphasis to sensation 
by making imagination the reception of ideas through sight. ^^ 

By the pleasures of the imagination or fancy ... I here mean such as * 
arise from visible objects, either when we have them actually in our view, 
or when we call up their ideas into our minds by paintings, statutes, de- 
scriptions, or any the like occasion. We cannot indeed have a single image 
in the fancy that did not make its first entrance through the sight. 87 

Imagination to Addison and to many of his age meant first of all a 
power of observation, wherefore it was an attribute of physical rather 
than intellectual experience. This narrow interpretation of imagina- 
tion is explicit in Watts's definition of the term. 

Our imagination is nothing else but the various appearances of our sen- 1 
sible ideas in the brain, where the soul frequendy works in uniting, dis- I 
joining, multiplying, magnifying, diminishing, and altering the several 
shapes, colours, sounds, motions, words, and things, that have been com- 
municated to us by the outward organs of sense. It is no wonder therefore 

34. Fielding, Tom Jones, bk. XIII, cap. u: Wor\s, ed. Browne, VII, 248. 

35. "Tho' Cruel Fate." 36. Spectator, Nos. 41 1-2 1. 
37. Ibid., No. 411. 



56 John Locke and English Literature 

if fancy leads us into many mistakes, for it is but sense at second hand. 
Whatever is strongly impressed upon the imagination, some persons be- 
lieve to be true. 88 

Akenside, who followed Addison closely in his versification of the 
"Pleasures of Imagination," shows a mind dependent upon the sen- 
sible world for its original ideas. 

Now the soul 
At length discloses every tuneful spring, 
To that harmonious movement from without, 
Responsive. 89 

Thomson similarly explains that the fancy of man's mind is supplied 
by receiving 

The whole magnificence of heaven and earth, 
And every beauty, delicate or bold, 
Obvious or more remote, with livelier sense, 
Diffusive painted on the rapid mind. 40 

In keeping with this Eighteenth-Century definition of imagination 
as sense at second hand are Sterne's accounts of his intellectual ex- 
periences. No testimony to the importance of sensation for stocking 
the mind with ideas could be more distinguished than Sterne's de- 
scription of the way ideas came into the fold of his curious mind. 

I wish you saw me half starting out of my chair, with what confidence, 
as I grasp the elbow of it, I look up — catching the idea, even sometimes 
before it half way reaches me — 

I believe in my conscience I intercept many a thought which heaven 
intended for another man. 41 

Although Yorick's rapacity may have helped him overcome the 
handicap of being obliged to take ideas from without, nevertheless 
he realized that his mind was generally at the mercy of sensation, for 
he said, "A man cannot dress, but his ideas get clothed at the same 
time; and if he dresses like a gendeman, every one of them stands 

38. Logic\, Part II, cap. iii, sec. 3. 39. Pleasures of Imagination, I, 12 1-4. 

40. Summer, 1749-52. 

41. Tristram Shandy, bk. VIII, cap. 2: ed. Cross, p. 435. 



Of Ideas 57 

presented to his imagination, genteelized along with him — ." 42 This 
is asserting no less than that our dress creates our ideas, which, I take 
it, is a refreshing reversal of the ordinary philosophy of clothes. If 
Fielding did not go so far as to surrender the human mind to the 
mercy of any tailor, he does indicate its subservience and obedience to 
the outside world in the formation of its ideas. One night Tom Jones, 
whose melancholy affection for the moon is too often forgotten, was 
saying to Partridge: 

"I wish I was at the top of this hill; it must certainly afford a most charm- 
ing prospect, especially by this light; for the solemn gloom which the 
moon casts on all objects, is beyond expression beautiful, especially to an 
imagination which is desirous of cultivating melancholy ideas." — "Very 
probably," answered Partridge; "but if the top of the hill be properest to 
produce melancholy thoughts, I suppose the bottom is the likeliest to pro- 
duce merry ones, and these I take to be much the better of the two." 43 

The strange notion that the larger the object contemplated by the 
mind, the greater would be the thought provoked, was a popular 
Eighteenth-Century conception, denoting the mind's reliance upon 
sensation. Edward Young, who was almost Berkeleian in his depre- 
ciation of the physical world, this "land of apparitions, empty shades," 
remained enough the realist to subscribe to the opinion that our 
thoughts are enlarged in proportion to the size of the objects con- 
templated. 

The mind that would be happy, must be great; 
Great, in its wishes; great, in its surveys. 
Extended views a narrow mind extend. 44 

Because extended views do extend a narrow mind Isaac Watts was 
most emphatic in recommending to the young the study of astronomy 
which would accustom them to "ta\e in vast and sublime Ideas with- I 
out Pain or Difficulty."^ In accordance with this sensational philoso- 
phy Addison had determined that architecture was the most capable 

42. Ibid., bk. IX, cap. 13: ed. Cross, p. 502. 

43. Fielding, Tom Jones, bk. VIII, cap. 10: Worhj, ed. Browne, VI, 486-7. 

44. Night Thoughts, IX, 138 1-3. 

45. Improvement of the Mind, Part I, cap. 16, "Of Enlarging the Capacity of the 
Mind." See also the Dedication of Watts's Knowledge of the Heavens and the Earth 
Made Easy. 



58 John Locke and English Literature 

of the arts in giving pleasure to the imagination because it presents a 
greatness of size which "strikes in with the natural greatness of the 
soul." 46 He then transferred this psychology to the conception of God 
by correlating the idea of a Deity with the great expanse of the sea. 

I must confess, it is impossible for me to survey this world of fluid matter 
without thinking on the hand that first poured it out, and made a proper 
channel for its reception. Such an object naturally raises in my thoughts 
the idea of an Almighty Being, and convinces me of His existence as 
much as a metaphysical demonstration. The imagination prompts the 
understanding, and by the greatness of the sensible object, produces in it 
the idea of a Being who is neither circumscribed by time nor space. 47 

As there was scarcely a notion concerning the operations of man's 
mind that escaped the searching intellect of Laurence Sterne, we dis- 
cover in his writings this same observation, turned in his customary 
manner to the purposes of humour. 

I confess I do hate all cold conceptions, as I do the puny ideas which 
engender them; and am generally so struck with the great works of na- 
ture, that for my own part, if I could help it, I never would make a 
comparison less than a mountain at least. All that can be said against the 
French sublime in this instance of it, is this — that the grandeur is more 
in the word; and less in the thing. No doubt the ocean fills the mind with 
vast ideas; but Paris being so far inland, it was not likely I should run 
post a hundred miles out of it, to try the experiment — 48 

It was Tom Paine's opinion that the very size and vastness of America 
developed in the minds of our people the large and generous ideas of 
liberty that expressed themselves in the Declaration of Independence. 

The scene which that country presents to the eye of a spectator, has some- 
thing in it which generates and encourages great ideas. Nature appears 
to him in magnitude. The mighty objects he beholds, act upon his mind 
by enlarging it, and he partakes of the greatness he contemplates. 49 

These several illustrations, some of them trivial, when taken to- 

46. Spectator, No. 415. 47. Ibid., No. 489. 

48. Sentimental Journey, "The Wig — Paris": ed. Cross, p. 80. 

49. Rights of Man, Part II, Introduction: Writings, ed. M. D. Conway, 4 vols., New 
York, 1894-6, II, 402. See also M. D. Conway, Life of Paine, 2 vols., New York, 1892, 
I, 241- 



Of Ideas 59 

gether, would support a theory that the Eighteenth-Century literary 
mind was directed outwards to the world of sensible objects for its 
ideas. Rules for writing consistent with this philosophy were actually 
formed when Addison dictated "that a noble writer should be born 
with this faculty in its full strength and vigour, so as to be able to 
receive lively ideas from outward objects." 60 Similar counsel may be 
taken from that significant passage in Rasselas which explains how 
the poet prepares himself for his work. 

Being now resolved to be a poet, I saw every thing with a new purpose; 
my sphere of attention was suddenly magnified: no kind of knowledge 
was to be overlooked. I ranged mountains and deserts for images and 
resemblances, and pictured upon my mind every tree of the forest and 
flower of the valley. I observed with equal care the crags of the rock and 
the pinnacles of the palace. Sometimes I wandered along the mazes of 
the rivulet, and sometimes watched the changes of the summer clouds. 
To a poet nothing can be useless. Whatever is beautiful, and whatever is 
dreadful, must be familiar to his imagination: he must be conversant with 
all that is awfully vast or elegantly little. The plants of the garden, the 
animals of the wood, the minerals of the earth, and meteors of the sky, 
must all concur to store his mind with inexhaustible variety: for every idea 
is useful for the inforcement or decoration of moral or religious truth; 
and he, who knows most, will have most power of diversifying his scenes, 
and of gratifying his reader with remote allusions and unexpected in- 
struction. 61 

For one who would sink instead of rise in poetry, Pope advised 
"familiarizing his mind to the lowest objects." 62 In each case a care- 
ful observation of external objects is recommended as a preparation 
for writing. Apparently the last thing that would have occurred to 
the Eighteenth-Century poet was to look into his heart and write. 

Fielding applied this objective literary philosophy in his composi- 
tion by giving exact attention to the outward appearance and be- 
haviour of men, which permitted him to say that in Joseph Andrews 
there is "scarce a character or action produced which I have not taken 
from my own observations and experience." 68 The world of reality 

50. Spectator, No. 417. 

51. Johnson, Rasselas, cap. 10: ed. R. W. Chapman, Oxford, 1927, pp. 48-9. 

52. Martinus Scriblerus: Works, ed. Elwin and Courthope, X, (363). 

53. Preface to Joseph Andrews: Wor\s, ed. Browne, V, 18. 



60 John Locke and English Literature 

which Fielding knew by sensation, experience, and observation, was 
_^made to provide the ideas and substance of his novels. "Reason," 
Sterne has written, "is, half of it, Sense"; 54 it is feeling, seeing, hear- 
ing, sensing the world and life outside the mind with precision and 
accuracy. This type of reason belonged in the highest degree to the 
poet James Thomson, "distinguished, above any writer who had pre- 
ceded him, at least for a hundred years, by his tireless habit of ob- 
servation." 55 The exact descriptions of the visible world in the Seasons 
are the efforts of one who seemed to believe that nature is the mother 
of ideas. What could possibly be a more careful, objective scrutiny of 
the sensible world than this Newtonian analysis of a rainbow! 

Meantime, refracted from yon eastern cloud, 
Bestriding earth, the grand ethereal bow 
Shoots up immense; and every hue unfolds, 
In fair proportion running from the red 
To where the violet fades into the sky. 
Here, awful Newton, the dissolving clouds 
Form, fronting on the sun, thy showery prism; 
And to the sage-instructed eye unfold 
The various twine of light, by thee disclosed 
From the white mingling maze. 58 

The explanation of Thomson's poetic method is contained in the 
Seasons' praise of the new philosophy and its celebration of the names 
of Bacon, Boyle, Newton, and Locke. It was to be expected, after 
Locke had placed the origin of ideas in sensation, that a poet schooled 
in this philosophy should hasten to describe with accuracy and care 
several natural objects which furnish ideas for the mind. Thomson's 
poetry allows for this interpretation since he borrowed freely from 
the Essay concerning Human Understanding, and apparently be- 
lieved that 

. . . Locke, 
Who made the whole internal world his own, 57 

well knew whence the mind's ideas come. 

54. Tristram Shandy, bk. VII, cap. 13: ed. Cross, p. 395. 

55. Seasons, Muses' Library Edition, p. xvii. 

56. Spring, 203-12. 57. Summer, 1558-9. 



Of Ideas 6i 

Once the mind is stored by sensation with simple ideas, Locke tells 
us, it may acquire several new simple ideas by reflecting upon its 
own activities in connection with the ideas sensation has provided. 
Reflection, which is therefore the second great source of ideas, is but 
"the perception of the operations of our own mind within us, as it is 
employed about the ideas it has got." 58 "The senses ever point out the 
way," Goldsmith repeats, "and reflection comments upon the dis- 
covery." 59 When the mind turns upon itself and watches its own 
workings, it observes as its most original faculty the power to per- 
ceive objects, so that perception becomes therefore the first simple 
idea arising from reflection. 60 Our inability to understand what per- 
ception is otherwise than by looking to our own minds is indicated in 
Blackmore's couplet, 

The Mind proceeds, and to Reflection goes, 
Perceives she does Perceive, and knows she Knows. 61 

By further observing its own operations about the ideas received 
from sensation, the mind acquires the simple idea of volition. 62 All 
other ideas concerning our mind's activities - are variations of these 
two simple ideas, perception and volition. The idea of retention, aris- 
ing from our observation that we can recall our ideas, is a "secondary 
perception, as I may so call it, or viewing again the ideas that are 
lodged in the memory." 63 Other acts of which the mind is conscious 
are its power to compare two ideas, 64 and the ability to compound 
several simple ideas into a complex idea. 65 Reflection further provides 
the idea that the mind can abstract and use names as signs to desig- 
nate ideas. 66 Addison summarizes much of this in his observation 
that, after the mind has been supplied by sensation, we then "have 
the power of retaining, altering and compounding those images 
which we have once received into all the varieties of picture and vision 
that are most agreeable to the imagination." 67 In the following lines 
from Akenside's Pleasures of Imagination, the author remarks how 

58. Essay, II, i, 4. 59. Citizen of the World, Letter 11. 

60. Essay, II, ix. 61. Creation, VII, 253-4. 

62. Essay, II, vi. 63. Essay, II, x, 7. 

64. Essay, II, xi, 4. 65. Essay, II, xi, 6. 

66. Essay, II, xi, 8, 9. 67. Spectator, No. 411. 



62 John Locke and English Literature 

ideas received from sensation are operated upon by the understand- 
ing: 

Thus at length 
Indow'd with all that nature can bestow, 
The child of fancy oft in silence bends 
O'er these mix'd treasures of his pregnant breast, 
With conscious pride. From them he oft resolves 
To frame he knows not what excelling things. 68 

Most of the ideas the mind receives "when it turns its view inward 
upon itself, and observes its own actions" 69 are stated in this passage 
in Thomson's Summer: 

With inward view, 
Thence on the ideal kingdom swift she turns 
Her eye; and instant, at her powerful glance, 
The obedient phantoms vanish or appear; 
Compound, divide, and into order shift, 
Each to his rank, from plain perception up 
To the fair forms of fancy's fleeting train; 
To reason then, deducing truth from truth, 
And notion quite abstract. 70 

Within the brief compass of these lines Thomson has included the 
mind's powers to recall, compound, perceive, and abstract, which are 
the chief simple ideas brought by reflection. It is these subjective ideas 
of reflection which Butler believed would be preserved after death 
even though those of sensation be destroyed. 71 

Among the faculties noticeable in the understanding Locke gives 
special regard to the mind's power of "discerning and distinguishing 
between the several ideas it has," 72 for there would be very little 
knowledge if we only perceived ideas, without knowing whether 
two were the same or different. Judgment it is that tells us the agree- 
ment or disagreement of our ideas. In elaborating upon this most 
valuable talent of the understanding Locke was led to say: 

If in having our ideas in the memory ready at hand consists quickness of 
parts; in this, of having them unconfused, and being able nicely to dis- 

68. Pleasures of Imagination, III, 373-8. 

69. Essay, II, vi. 70. Summer, 1788-96. 
71. Analogy, I, i, 24. 72. Essay, II, xi, 1. 



Of Ideas 63 

tinguish one thing from another, where there is but the least difference, 
consists, in a great measure, the exactness of judgment, and clearness of 
reason, which is to be observed in one man above another. And hence 
perhaps may be given some reason of that common observation, — that 
men who have a great deal of wit, and prompt memories, have not always 
the clearest judgment or deepest reason. For wit lying most in the assem- 
blage of ideas, and putting those together with quickness and variety, 
wherein can be found any resemblance or congruity, thereby to make up 
pleasant pictures and agreeable visions in the fancy; judgment, on the 
contrary, lies quite on the other side, in separating carefully, one from 
another, ideas wherein can be found the least difference, thereby to avoid 
being misled by similitude, and by affinity to take one thing for another. 73 

Locke's distinction between wit, the assembling of ideas, and judg- 
ment, the separating of them, two quite contrary powers of the un- 
derstanding that rarely belong to the same person, has obviously little 
significance in the development of the philosophy of the Essay con- 
cerning Human Understanding. Rather this definition of wit as op- 
posed to judgment is a detached bit of psychology that becomes, how- 
ever, very useful in leading us through the wilderness of Eighteenth- 
Century wit. Simply within the writings of Pope wit may stand for a 
jester, an author, the intellect, a poet, a joke, the judgment, the an- 
tithesis of judgment, etc., etc. 74 To increase the confusion we have 
Fielding's intentionally perplexing definition of wit as "Prophane- 
ness, Indecency, Immorality, Scurrility, Mimickry, Buffoonery. Abuse 
of all good Men, and especially of the Clergy." 75 Only Locke's clear 
exposition of wit, as contrasted with judgment, can help us find our 
way through this dark jungle of metaphor. 

Locke was not the first to note as mental traits that some men have 
a faculty for assembling, and others for separating, ideas, for Bacon 
had already written: "Maximum et velut radicate discrimen ingeni- 
orum, quoad philosophiam et scientias, illud est; quod alia ingenia 
sint fortiora et aptiora ad notandas rerum differentias; alia, ad no- 
tandas rerum similitudines." 79 Malebranche followed Bacon, but pre- 
ceded Locke, in calling attention to this same phenomenon, that "// y 

73. Essay, II, xi, 2. See Basil Willey, Seventeenth Century Background, London, 
1934, pp. 290-5. 

74. Wor\s, ed. Elwin and Courthope, II, 25. 75. Covent-Garden Journal, No. 4. 
76. Quoted in Dugald Stewart, Dissertation: Wor\s, ed. Hamilton, I, 153, n. 2. 



64 John Locke and English Literature 

a done des esprits de deux sortes. Les uns remarquent aisement les 
differences des choses, et ce sont les bons esprits. Les autres imaginent 
et supposent de la ressemblance entr'elles, et ce sont les esprits super- 
ficiels." 17 But it is to Locke, designating these two operations of the 
mind with the English names of wit and judgment, that this theory 
owes its popularity in the writings of Englishmen of the Eighteenth 
Century. In 1677 wit meant for Dryden, according to his definition 
in the Preface to the State of Innocence, "a propriety of Thoughts and 
Words; or in other terms, Thought and Words, elegantly adapted 
to the Subject," 78 but in 1692, two years after the appearance of the 
Essay concerning Human Understanding, he has a quite different 
interpretation of wit, and one that coincides exactly with Locke's. In 
the Dedication of "Eleonora" he remarks : 

The reader will easily observe, that I was transported by the multitude 
and variety of my similitudes; which are generally the product of a 
luxuriant fancy, and the wantonness of wit. Had I call'd in my judgment 
to my assistance, I had certainly retrench'd many of them. 79 

That Dryden had learned from Locke that wit was the faculty of 
assembling ideas and finding similitudes, cannot yet be said definitely, 
but it is certain that after Locke this notion of wit and judgment, the 
former a process of combining, the latter of separating ideas, was 
common and popular. 

Addison took the theory out of the Essay to give it circulation in 
the sixty-second issue of the Spectator, written in his best manner and 
beginning, "MR. LOCKE has an admirable reflection upon the dif- 
ference of wit and judgment, whereby he endeavours to show the 
reason why they are not always the talents of the same person. His 
words are as follow : . . . " After quoting Locke's definition, which 
we have given above, he continues : 

This is, I think, the best and most philosophical account that I have ever 
met with of wit, which generally, though not always, consists in such a 
resemblance and congruity of ideas as this author mentions. I shall only 
add to it, by way of explanation, that every resemblance of ideas is not 
that which we call wit, unless it be such an one that gives delight and 

77. Quoted in Dugald Stewart, Dissertation: Worths, ed. Hamilton, I, 153, n. 2. 

78. State of Innocence, London, 1677. See the final paragraph of the Preface. 

79. Poetical Workjs, Cambridge Edition, p. 270. 



Of Ideas 65 

surprise to the reader. These two properties seem essential to wit, more 
particularly the last of them. In order therefore that the resemblance in 
the ideas be wit, it is necessary that the ideas should not lie too near one 
another in the nature of things; for where the likeness is obvious, it gives 
no surprise. To compare one man's singing to that of another, or to repre- 
sent the whiteness of any object by that of milk and snow, or the variety 
of its colours by those of the rainbow, cannot be called wit, unless, besides 
this obvious resemblance, there be some further congruity discovered in 
the two ideas that is capable of giving the reader some surprise. Thus 
when a poet tells us, the bosom of his mistress is as white as snow, there 
is no wit in the comparison: but when he adds, with a sigh, that it is as 
cold too, it then grows into wit. 

Blackmore has merely repeated Locke's definition in stating that the 
mind 

. . . does Distinguish here, and there Unite, 
The Mark of Judgment That, and This of Wit. 80 

In the background of Pope's explanation, 

True wit is nature to advantage dressed; 

What oft was thought, but ne'er so well expressed, 81 

one may detect Locke's reasoning, for dressing nature to advantage 
is but assembling ideas in nature with quickness and variety to form 
pleasant and agreeable pictures. Thomson apparently considered 
Locke's and Pope's definitions of wit one and the same, for he com- 
bines elements of each in the following passage, where it is said that, 
when we are weary of serious thoughts, then 

We, shifting for relief, would play the shapes 
Of frolic fancy; and incessant form 
Those rapid pictures, that assembled train 
Of fleet ideas, never joined before, 
Whence lively wit excites to gay surprise. 82 

The tradition that treated wit as the process of combining ideas was 
continued by Akenside, who notes in the Introduction to Pleasures 
of Imagination that the first enjoyment arising "from the relations 

80. Creation, VII, 273-4. 81. Essay on Criticism, 297-8. 

82. Winter, 610-14. 



66 John Locke and English Literature 

of different objects one to another" is "that various and complicated 
resemblance existing between several parts of the material and im- 
material worlds, which is the foundation of metaphor and wit." 83 
This interpretation of wit follows down into the writings of Gold- 
smith with no variation. 

When an unexpected similitude in two objects strikes the imagination — 
in other words, when a thing is wittily expressed — all our pleasure turns 
into admiration of the artist, who had fancy enough to draw the picture. 84 

Johnson retained Locke's definition of wit, ascribing this ability to 
unite ideas to the ingenious metaphysical poets. 

Wit, abstracted from its effects upon the hearer, may be more rigorously 
and philosophically considered as a kind of discordia concors; a combi- 
nation of dissimilar images, or discovery of occult resemblances in things 
apparendy unlike. Of wit, thus defined, they [the Metaphysical School] 
have more than enough. The most heterogeneous ideas are yoked by vio- 
lence together. 86 

The indifference with which Johnson awarded wit to the unpopu- 
lar metaphysical poets indicates the truth that this faculty of the mind 
was not considered rare. Shaftesbury criticized the authors of his 
time, not for their want of wit, but for their lack of "judgment and 
correctness, which can only be attained by thorough diligence, study, 
and impartial censure of themselves." 86 Wit was again minimized 
when Pope made it the corner-stone of Bathos and advised whoever 
would excel in this art studiously to 

avoid, detest, and turn his head from all the ideas, ways, and workings of 
that pestilent foe to wit, and destroyer of fine figures, which is known by 
the name of common sense. His business must be to contract the true gout 
de travers; and to acquire a most happy, uncommon, unaccountable way 
of thinking. 87 

It was perhaps to be expected that Edward Young would be willing 
to discount and deplore this same talent of the mind. 

83. Pleasures of Imagination, London, 1744, p. ix. 

84. Present State of Polite Learning: Wor\s, ed. Gibbs, III, 515. 

85. Cowley: Lives of the English Poets, cd. Hill, I, 20. 

86. Characteristics, cd. J. M. Robertson, 2 vols., London, 1900, I, 181. 

87. Martinus Scriblerus: Worhj, ed. El win and Courthope, X, (354). 



Of Ideas 67 

Wit, how delicious to man's dainty taste! 

"lis precious, as the vehicle of sense; 

But, as its substitute, a dire disease. 

Pernicious talent! flatter'd by the world, 

By the blind world, which thinks the talent rare. 

Wisdom is rare, Lorenzo! wit abounds. 

Observe, as he continues, Locke's definition of judgment: 

Wisdom, awful wisdom! which inspects, 
Discerns, compares, weighs, separates, infers, 
Seizes the right, and holds it to the last; 
How rare! 88 

Since wit, according to Pope, is a characteristic of the poet while 
judgment similarly is the mark of the critic, 89 and since wit was con- 
sidered inferior to judgment, the disposition of the age would appear 
to be in the direction of critical prose away from poetry. 

Wit appeared a sorry thing in itself, and worthless unless accom- 
panied by judgment, in such unusual individuals as Horace, whom 
Pope thought "supreme in judgment, as in wit." 90 So Mr. B, when 
he would intentionally compliment Pamela, credits her with superi- 
ority in both wit and judgment. 91 But Locke had made wit and 
judgment two very different, almost incompatible faculties of the 
mind, rarely the gift of the same person. Pope was impressed with 
opposition between these mental traits, that 

. . . wit and judgment often are at strife, 

Though meant each other's aid, like man and wife. 92 

But Sterne, the born humourist, viewed with such actual alarm the 
barrier Locke had placed between wit and judgment that the thought 
troubled him as he wrote Tristram. Yorick ponders while riding his 
horse, "that brisk trotting and slow argumentation, like wit and judg- 
ment, were two incompatible movements." 93 And so, when Sterne 

88. Night Thoughts, VIII, 1232^7, 1247-50. 

89. Essay on Criticism, 17-18. 90. Ibid., 657. 

91. Richardson, Pamela: Works, ed. Stephen, I, 401. 

92. Essay on Criticism, 82-3. 

93. Tristram Shandy, bk. I, cap. 10: ed. Cross, p. 14. 



68 John Locke and English Literature 

finds time to pen his "Author's Preface," which appears as the 
twentieth chapter of Book Three, he strives practically in self- 
defense to demolish the wall separating wit and judgment. His 
method of writing was, he testifies, 

taking care only, as I went along, to put into it all the wit and the judg- 
ment (be it more or less) which the great Author and Bestower of them 
had thought fit originally to give me — so that, as your worships see, — 'tis 
just as God pleases. 

Now, Agelastes (speaking dispraisingly) sayeth, That there may be 
some wit in it, for aught he knows — but no judgment at all. And Trip- 
tolemus and Phutatorius agreeing thereto, ask, How is it possible there 
should? for that wit and judgment in this world never go together; inas- 
much as they are two operations differing from each other as wide as east 
from west — So, says Locke — so are farting and hiccupping, say I. 

Through the entire Preface to Tristram Shandy Sterne therefore 
endeavours to prove, by his syllogistic reasoning which hinges mostly 
upon the illustration of a cane chair with two ornamental knobs, that 
wit and judgment do and must accompany each other. Yorick rarely 
disagrees with his master in philosophy, but "the great Locke, who 
was seldom outwitted by false sounds — was nevertheless bubbled 
here. . . . — it was his glory to free the world from the lumber of a 
thousand vulgar errors ;— but this was not of the number." Locke's 
/ statement of the incompatibility of wit and judgment has, Sterne 
argues, "been made the Magna Charta of stupidity ever since — ," 
which, I think, is the last word to be said on this theory. Sterne leaves 
us simply to imagine the vast multitudes of Eighteenth-Century dull- 
ards who under the protection of Locke were left unmolested in their 
enjoyment of the superior faculty of "judgment." 

The distinction between wit and judgment, it will be recalled, 
arose out of the discussion of the simple ideas the mind receives when 
it reflects upon its own operations and considers what it does with 
those ideas furnished by sensation. By this introspection the mind 
observes its power to perceive, recall, compare, compound, name 
these ideas, and to distinguish by its faculty of judgment between 
them. It is noteworthy how many of man's simple ideas of reflection 
Locke allows also to brutes, for he grants that all animals possess the 



fa 



Of Ideas 69 

faculty of perception, 94 and that memory too is an attribute of the 
mind of the brute as well as of man. 

This faculty of laying up and retaining the ideas that are brought into 
the mind, several other animals seem to have to a great degree, as well as 
man. For, to pass by other instances, birds learning of tunes, and the 
endeavours one may observe in them to hit the notes right, put it past 
doubt with me, that they have perception, and retain ideas in their memo- 
ries, and use them for patterns. 95 

In addition to perceiving and recalling ideas, brutes may compare a 
little, though not in any great degree, 96 as it is possible they may com- 
pound somewhat, since a dog may take the separate ideas of shape, 
smell, and voice belonging to a man, and combine them into the 
complex idea of his master. 97 "John stroaking Tripp, the Grey- 
hound," we read in Prior's Dialogue between hoc\e and Montaigne, 
"says to Margaret, Do you think Child, that a Dog tho he can retain 
several combinations of simple Idea's, can ever compound, enlarge, 
or make complex Idea's?" 98 Most important of all, Locke allows 
brutes the power to reason, "For if they have any ideas at all, and are 
not bare machines, (as some would have them,) we cannot deny 
them to have some reason." 99 Therefore this faculty "whereby man is 
supposed to be distinguished from beasts, and wherein it is evident 
he much surpasses them," 100 is nevertheless in a measure the endow- 
ment of some animals. This theory that brutes may reason will be 
appealing or repellent as it is considered a generous attempt to elevate 
the status of lower animals, or a misanthropic effort to debase man- 
kind. Locke probably had neither intention; rather in a truthful in- 
vestigation of man's mind "he traces," in the words of Voltaire, "Step 
by Step, the Progress of his Understanding; examines what Things 
he has in common with Beasts, and what he possesses above them." 101 
This examination convinced him that it was not the faculty but the 
degree of reason that distinguished man from all other living animals. 
In allowing brutes to have some reason, Locke was contradicting 

94. Essay, II, ix, 12. 95. Essay, II, x, 10. 

96. Essay, II, xi, 5. 97. Essay, II, xi, 7. 

98. Dialogues of the Dead and Other Wor\s in Prose and Verse, ed. Waller, p. 245. 

99. Essay, II, xi, 11. 100. Essay, IV, xvii, 1. 
101. Letters concerning the English Nation, p. 99. Letter 13. 



70 John Locke and English Literature 

the Cartesians, whose conservative refusal to admit lower animals 
to the class of thinking beings 102 is thus briefly stated by Bolingbroke: 

Des Cartes, therefore, thought fit to make two other assumptions; one, 
that since beasts must either not think at all, or have souls like men, whose 
essence is thought, they should have no souls at all, but be reduced to be 
material automates. Such he made them: and such they continue among 
his disciples. 103 

According to the Cartesians brutes were mere machines without any 
of the qualities of intelligence and reason which, by their theory, 
were the exclusive property of man and distinguished him from all 
other forms of life. Bacon, like Descartes, had adopted a cautious 
opinion regarding brutes, carefully maintaining the honour of man- 
kind by refusing to see any close affinity between the soul of humans 
and that of animals. "I do not much like," he said, "the confused and 
promiscuous manner in which philosophers have handled the func- 
tions of the soul; as if the human soul differed from the spirit of 
brutes in degree rather than in kind." 104 

The ancient hypothesis that reason separated man and beast en- 
tered into a stanza of Spenser's Faerie Queene when Guyon said : 

See the mind of beasdy man, 
That hath so soone forgot the excellence 
Of his creation, when he life began, 
That now he chooseth, with vile difference, 
To be a beast, and lacke intelligence. 105 

"Colin Clout" repeats the notion : 

But man, that had the sparke of reasons might, 
More then the rest to rule his passion, 
Chose for his love the fairest in his sight, 
Like as himselfe was fairest by creation. 106 

102. Essay, II, xxvii, 12. See George Boas, The Happy Beast in French Thought of 
the Seventeenth Century, Baltimore, 1933. 

103. Works, III, 539. 

104. Of the Dignity and Advancement of Learning: Philosophical Wor\s, ed. Rob- 
ertson, p. 493. 

105. V aerie Queene, II, xii, 87. 

106. "Colin Clouts Come Home Againe," 867-70. 



Of Ideas 71 

Spenser's occasional statements that reason distinguishes man from 
brute have not, however, the controversial quality of the numerous 
similar assertions in the literature of the Eighteenth Century, when 
the issue had been brought forcefully to the attention of thoughtful 
men. Addison, an early leader of the conservatives who refused brutes 
any reason and believed instinct alone sufficient to account for animal 
behaviour, expressed his opinion thus : 

One would wonder to hear sceptical men disputing for the reason of ani- 
mals, and telling us it is only our pride and prejudices that will not allow 
them the use of that faculty. 

Reason shows itself in all occurrences of life; whereas the brute makes 
no discovery of such a talent, but in what immediately regards his own 
preservation, or the continuance of his species. 107 

Perhaps the most ardent defender of the dignity of man's mind was 
Edward Young, averse to any movement that would facilitate the 
approach of the brute towards the level of humanity. 

I grant the muse 
Has often blusht at her degen'rate sons, 
Retain'd by sense to plead her filthy cause; 
To raise the low, to magnify the mean, 
And subtilize the gross into refin'd: 
As if to magic numbers' powerful charm 
'Twas given, to make a civet of their song 
Obscene, and sweeten ordure to perfume. 
Wit, a true pagan, deifies the brute, 
And lifts our swine-enjoyments from the mire. 108 

To prevent any insurgence of the gross, Young denies beasts the 
power to reason: 

Reason is man's peculiar: sense, the brute's. 109 

107. Spectator, No. 120. Cf. Guardian, No. 89: "The same Faculty of Reason and 
Understanding, which placeth us above the Brute part of the Creation, doth also 
subject our Minds to greater and more manifold Disquiets than Creatures of an in- 
ferior Rank are sensible of." 

108. Night Thoughts, V, 5-14. 

109. Ibid., VII, 1432. 



72 John Locke and English Literature 

Unallied to lower animals, 

. . . men are angels, loaded for an hour, 
Who wade this miry vale, and climb with pain, 
And slipp'ry step, the bottom of the steep. 110 

As the cardinal testimony of man's superiority Young offers the fact 
that Jesus assumed the human shape to be crucified for us. And — 

If a God bleeds, he bleeds not for a worm. 111 

The atonement of the Cross was not intended for a being whose 
qualities of mind are shared by worms and beasts. Isaac Watts was 
somewhat more generously inclined towards brutes than Addison 
and Young, though he was usually content to agree with the Car- 
tesians in describing them as "wondrous Machines" 112 that perform 
all their duties and affairs by instinct, i.e. nature, and not by reason 
and understanding. 113 Avoiding prejudice and dogmatism, however, 
he records the following: 

The late Bishop Burnet, who was no indiligent Enquirer into various 
Knowledge, seems to determine . . . that one of these two Opinions is 
now the Result of the Thoughts of the Learned {viz.) that either Brutes 
are meer Machines, or that they have reasonable Souls. // is certain, says 
he, that either Beasts have no Thought or Liberty at all, and are only 
Pieces of finely organized Matter, capable of many subtile Motions that 
come to them from Objects without them; but that they have no Sensation 
nor Thought at all about them; or, — But he supposes, that human Nature 
can hardly receive or bear this Notion, because there are such evident Indi- 
cations of even high Degrees of Reason among the Beasts; he concludes 
therefore, It is more reasonable to imagine, that there may be Spirits of a 
lower Order in Beasts, that have in them a Capacity of thinking and chus- 
ing; but that it is so entirely under the Impressions of Matter, that they are 
not capable of that Largeness either of Thought or Liberty, that is neces- 
sary to ma\e them capable of Good or Evil, of Rewards and Punishments; 
and that therefore they may be perpetually rolling about from one Body to 
another. 11 * 

no. Night Thoughts, IV, 537-9. in. Ibid., IV, 499. 

112. Philosophical Essays, Essay IX, sec. x. 

113. Ibid., Essay IX, sec. 6. 114. Ibid., Essay IX, sec. 7. 



Of Ideas 73 

In consequence of Burnet's argument Watts vacillated slightly, un- 
certain whether or not to ascribe reason to brutes, though in any case 
he could definitely assert that man has reason and does not operate 
like a machine. America had a staunch, unbending conservative in 
the character of the Rev. Samuel Quincy, who declared to his congre- 
gation in Charleston that God "has endowed us with Reason and 
Understanding (Faculties which the Brutes have not) on purpose to 
contemplate his Beauty and Glory, and to keep our inferior Appetites 
in due Subjection to his Laws, written in our Hearts." 115 Instinct was 
all that Bishop Butler allowed brutes. 

There are several brute creatures of equal, and several of superior strength, 
to that of men; and possibly the sum of the whole strength of brutes may 
be greater than that of mankind: but reason gives us the advantage and 
superiority over them; and thus man is the acknowledged governing ani- 
mal upon the earth. 116 

In BoswelTs Life we find Johnson repeating an argument he had 
already used in the Rambler "against the notion that the brute crea- 
tion is endowed with the faculty of reason," 117 while in another in- 
stance his fine humanism took this amusing expression. 

An essay, written by Mr. Deane, a divine of the Church of England, 
maintaining the future life of brutes, by an explication of certain parts of 
the scriptures, was mentioned, and the doctrine insisted on by a gende- 
man who seemed fond of curious speculation. Johnson, who did not like 
to hear of any thing concerning a future state which was not authorised by 
the regular canons of orthodoxy, discouraged this talk; and being offended 
at its continuation, he watched an opportunity to give the gendeman a 
blow of reprehension. So, when the poor speculatist, with a serious meta- 
physical pensive face, addressed him, "But really, Sir, when we see a very 
sensible dog, we don't know what to think of him." Johnson, rolling with 
joy at the thought which beamed in his eye, turned quickly round, and 
replied, "True, Sir: and when we see a very foolish fellow, we don't know 
what to think of him." 118 

If these men appear uncharitable in refusing reason and also immor- 

115. Quoted in Carl Becker, Declaration of Independence, p. 77. 

116. Analogy, I, iii, 22. See also 11, iii, 14-16. 

117. Life of Johnson, ed. Hill and Powell, II, 248-9. 

118. Ibid., II, 53-4. 



74 John Locke and English Literature 

tality to brutes, nevertheless the serious consideration they gave to 
the problem resembles in this late day benevolence itself. 

The positive side of this truly dramatic debate was taken by Bol- 
ingbroke, Voltaire, Swift, and Pope, for whom the suggestion that 
brutes had some of man's reason made a perfect holiday. "Absurd 
and impertinent vanity!" Bolingbroke exclaimed, as he proceeded 
much further than Locke to link the mind of the beast with that of 
man. 

We pronounce our fellow animals to be automates, or we allow them in- 
stinct, or we bestow graciously upon them, at the utmost stretch of liber- 
ality, an irrational soul, something we know not what, but something that 
can claim no kindred to the human mind. We scorn to admit them into 
the same class of intelligence with ourselves, tho it be obvious, among 
other observations easy to be made, and tending to the same purpose, that 
the first inlets, and the first elements of their knowledge, and of ours, are 
the same. But of ourselves, we think it not too much to boast that our in- 
telligence is a participation of the divine intelligence. 119 

Voltaire enlisted among the benefactors of the brute by arguing in 
the same manner. 

Methinks 'tis clearly evident that Beasts cannot be mere Machines, which 
I prove thus. God has given them the very same Organs of Sensation as to 
us: If therefore they have no Sensation, God has created a useless Thing; 
now according to your own Confession God does nothing in vain; he 
therefore did not create so many Organs of Sensation, merely for them 
to be uninform'd with this Faculty; consequendy Beasts are not mere 
Machines. . . . Exclaim therefore no more against the sage, the modest 
Philosophy of Mr. hoc\e, which so far from interfering with Religion, 
would be of use to demonstrate the Truth of it, in case Religion wanted 
any such Support. 120 

( Since this new philosophy was dedicated to the cause of lower ani- 
mals, it is no wonder that by Fielding's time "brute" had become the 
popular name for a philosopher. 121 In this sense Hume was a "brute," 
for he said "no truth appears to me more evident, than that beasts 
are endow'd with thought and reason as well as men." 122 

119. Wor\s, III, 352-3. 

120. Letters concerning the English Nation, pp. 105-06. Letter 13. 
I2i. Fielding, Covent-Garden Journal, No. 4. 

122. Treatise of Human Nature, ed. Selby-Biggc, p. 176. 



Of Ideas 75 

The results of Swift'^grant of reason to brutes in Gulliver's Travels 
are so familiar that one need only recall how Gulliver, arriving in the 
land of the Houyhnhnms with all the prejudices of superior man, 
"was amazed to see such actions and behaviour in brute beasts, and 
concluded with myself, that if the inhabitants of this country were 
endued with a proportionable degree of reason, they must needs be 
the wisest people upon earth." 123 After residing for some time in this 
country where the ruling class was composed of rational horses and 
man was a beast without reason or conscience, he was still naive 
enough to explain that in his own country the horse had "not the 
least tincture of reason." 12 * The Houyhnhnms for their part had been 
equally lofty, believing all men to be without reason, and conse- 
quently when Gulliver undertook to learn their language, they 
"looked upon it as a prodigy that a brute animal should discover such 
marks of a rational creature." 125 It was a source of delight for the 
horses to find in man some unsuspected glimmerings of reason. After 
balancing the qualities, intellectual and moral, of rational horses and 
rational men, Gulliver confesses 

that the many virtues of those excellent quadrupeds placed in opposite 
view to human corruptions, had so far opened my eyes and enlarged my 
understanding, that I began to view the actions and passions of man in a 
very different light, and to think the honour of my own kind not worth 
managing. 126 

The brute was so deified by Swift that there was no longer the Spen- 
serian possibility of man's choosing to be a beast and "lacke intelli- 
gence," but, on the contrary, 

. . . now and then 
Beasts may degenerate into men. 127 

Swift's not altogether healthy misanthropy is satirized by Goldsmith 
in his poem "The Logicians Refuted. In Imitation of Dean Swift," 
which begins : 

123. Gulliver's Travels: Prose Wor\s, ed. Temple Scott, VIII, 233. 

124. Ibid., VIII, 250. 125. Ibid., VIII, (242). 

126. Bid., VIII, (269). 

127. Swift, "Beasts' Confession to the Priest": Poems, ed. W. E. Browning, 2 vols., 
London, 1910, 1, 239. 



j6 John Locke and English Literature 

Logicians have but ill defined 
As rational, the human Kind; 
Reason, they say, belongs to man, 
But let them prove it if they can. 128 

Pope had started his sponsorship of the brute in his early poem 
"Windsor Forest," by asserting that the savage, preying characteris- 
tics of animals were not the product of their own ignorance, but were 
learned from men and "kings more furious and severe" than brutes 
themselves. 

Beasts, urged by us, their fellow-beasts pursue, 
And learn of man each other to undo. 129 

The Essay on Man later argues that man was noble as long as he re- 
mained true to the natural, God-directed instinct he had in common 
with brutes, 130 but when he forsook this guidance to rely upon his 
own reason, evil entered and broke the chain of universal love. Hav- 
ing begun by taking the lives of lower animals, man then, turning 
upon man, murdered his own species. 131 The triumph of reason 
over natural instinct brought a corruption in man which later in- 
fected and contaminated all scales of animal life, so that this reason 
that taints all living beings is the glory of none but the confusion 
of all. 

The persistent theme throughout the First Series of Gay's Fables 
is just this age-old, but recently revived, problem of the difference 
between man and beast, a philosophical question particularly suited 
to the fable and one which doubtless made for its popularity as a 
literary form in the Eighteenth Century. In Gay's Fables we find 
expressed that contempt for humanity and admiration of animals 
which should characterize the writings of one who belonged to the 
literary circle of Swift and Pope. Man's vicious, preying qualities, his 
ambition, 132 his cruelty, 133 his greed, 134 are so fully exposed and his 
rational qualities so thoroughly challenged and denied 135 that after 
reading Gay one would conclude that there was nothing left for a 

128. Wor\s f ed. Gibbs, II, 76-7. 129. "Windsor Forest," 123-4. 

130. Essay on Man, III, 91-2. 131. Ibid., Ill, 168. 

132. Fable 4. 133. Fable 5. 

134. Fable 6. 

135. Fable 41: "Reason in man is meer pretence." 



Of Ideas 77 

truly intelligent man to do but to turn this world over to the guardian- 
ship of animals and become a vegetarian. Considering the trend of 
philosophy one would be prepared to discover an active vegetarian 
movement in the Eighteenth Century, but none is apparent. It is 
probably as Goldsmith's Chinese sage observed: 

The better sort here pretend to the utmost compassion for animals of 
every kind: to hear them speak, a stranger would be apt to imagine they 
could hardly hurt the gnat that stung them; they seem so tender, and so 
full of pity, that one would take them for the harmless friends of the 
whole creation; the protectors of the meanest insect or reptile that was 
privileged with existence. And yet (would you believe it?) I have seen 
the very men who have thus boasted of their tenderness, at the same time 
devouring the flesh of six different animals tossed up in a fricassee. 188 

Any carefully calculated theory which allots to animals a share of 
man's intellectual power is perhaps ugly and repulsive, but when the 
theoretical element of this philosophy is disguised or forgotten in an 
attitude of unprincipled kindness and respect for all living beings, 
then we are attracted. Sterne, who busied himself about most prob- 
lems of the mind, was apparently never concerned with the reason- 
ing capacities of animals, though his consideration for these creatures 
reveals itself constantly, now in Uncle Toby's soliloquy on a fly, 187 
again in pathetic lamentations for a dead donkey, a beast so loved by 
and so loving his master, that when the two were by chance separated 
for days, neither could eat or drink till they met again. 138 Such senti- 
mental expressions descend from Locke's philosophy rather than 
from Descartes, who refused not only reason to these machines but 
also every other faculty belonging to man, even the sense of feeling. 
The Cartesian attitude may be contrasted with Sterne's gentle regard 
for animals by the following unbelievable anecdote : 

M. de Fontenelle contoit qu'un jour etant alle voir Malebranche aux PP. 
de l'Oratoire de la Rue St. Honore, une grosse chienne de la maison, et 
qui etoit pleine, entra dans la salle ou ils se promenoient, vint caresser le 
P. Malebranche, et se rouler a ses pieds. Aprej* quelques mouvemens 
inutiles pour la chasser, le philosophe lui donna un grand coup de pied, 

136. Citizen of the World, Letter 15. 

137. Tristram Shandy, bk. II, cap. 12: ed. Cross, p. 88. 

138. Sentimental Journey, "Nampont — The Dead Ass": ed. Cross, p. 70. 



78 John Locke and English Literature 

qui fit jetter a la chienne un cri de douleur, et a M. de Fontenelle un cri de 
compassion. Eh quoi (lui dit froidement le P. Malebranche) ne scavez 
vous pas bien que cela ne se sent point? 139 

This Cartesian position Mandeville himself had maintained in his 
first work, De Brutorutn Operationibus (1689), 140 but later in the 
Fable of the Bees he turned quite violently against this younger opin- 
ion, as we see when, after a vivid and painful description of the 
slaughter of a bullock, he thus addresses the reader: 

When a Creature has given such convincing and undeniable Proofs of the 
Terrors upon him, and the Pains and Agonies he feels, is there a Follower 
of Descartes so inur'd to Blood, as not to refute, by his Commiseration, the 
Philosophy of that vain Reasoner? 141 

Though all animals may have profited by the bequest of reason 
from Locke and such thinkers, the chief beneficiary was none other 
than the well-deserving elephant, whose remarkable appearance of 
intelligence, noted in the Essay concerning Human Understand- 
ing** 2 frequently won for it the title of "half -reasoning." Pope, rising 
to the vocative, speaks : 

How instinct varies in the grov'ling swine, 
Compared, half-reas'ning elephant, with thine! 143 

The phrase was passed on by Bolingbroke when he remarked that 
"there are stupid savages, of whom it seems lawful to doubt, whether 
they are able to make greater discoveries concerning God and religion, 
than the half reasoning elephant." 144 A memorable personality is 
that wise elephant of Gay's tenth fable who enters a bookshop and 
finds there a book written by man on the wisdom of elephants. To the 
elephant it seems highly irrational that one species should presume 
to weigh the intellectual powers of another. This opinion he expresses 
audibly, and then picks up a volume of Greek which he proceeds to 
glance through casually until interrupted by the bookseller who has 
been so impressed with the elephant's apparent learning that he im- 

139. The Abbe Trublet, quoted in Dugald Stewart, Dissertation: Worhjs, ed. Hamil- 
ton, I, 375. 

140. Fable of the Bees, ed. Kaye, I, cv-cvi. 

141. Ibid., I, 181. 142. Essay, III, vi, 26. 
143. Essay on Man, I, 221-2. 144. Wor\s, IV, 71. 



Of Ideas 79 

mediately asks him to write a book against the Trinity! Whereupon 
the elephant politely reminds the bookseller that one species is in- 
capable of criticizing the beliefs of another, and forthwith leaves the 
shop. 145 To these testimonies of proboscidian wisdom Thomson 
would add his sanction. 

Peaceful beneath primeval trees that cast 
Their ample shade o'er Niger's yellow stream, 
And where the Ganges rolls his sacred wave, 
Or mid the central depth of blackening woods, 
High-raised in solemn theatre around, 
Leans the huge elephant — wisest of brutes! 
Oh, truly wise! with gende might endowed, 
Though powerful not destructive! 146 

The superior rational talents of this well-poised elephant are finally 
and fully explained by the Shandean philosophy of noses. "Why is 
the elephant the wisest of animals, but because he has so long a 
trunk?" 147 

In ascribing some reason to brutes Locke intended to show that 
man's mind differed from that of lower animals in degree rather 
than in kind and that a higher reasoning faculty, implying an ability 
to abstract and have general ideas, is "that which puts a perfect dis- 
tinction betwixt man and brutes, and is an excellency which the 
faculties of brutes do by no means attain to." 148 Higher reasoning 
powers are sufficient to account for the other numerous distinctions 
which have been established between man and beast. Listed by 
Shaftesbury as man's chief intellectual characteristics which raise him 
above the degree of brutes are "Freedom of Reason in the Learned 
World, and good Government and Liberty in the Civil World," 149 a 
statement to be compared with a speech in the Beggar's Opera: 
"Lions, Wolves, and Vulturs don't live together in herds, droves or 
flocks. — Of all animals of prey, man is the only sociable one." 150 
Elsewhere Shaftesbury has said that brutes differ from man for want 

145. Fables, First Series, No. 10. 146. Summer, 716-23. 

147. John Ferriar, lllustrationrof Sterne, London, 1798, p. no. 

148. Essay, II, xi, 10. 

149. Several Letters Written by a Noble Lord to a Young Man at the University, 
p. 8. Letter of May 10, 1707. 

150. Act III, sc. ii. 



80 John Locke and English Literature 

of a sense of beauty, 151 which is his way of saying that they have no 
moral consciousness. To Shaftesbury all virtuous actions are aestheti- 
cally beautiful and all vicious actions ugly, wherefore the brute, hav- 
ing no idea of beauty, accordingly cannot distinguish right from 
wrong. Goldsmith with more wisdom asserts that memory and pur- 
pose mark the dividing line between man and brute. 

A remembrance of what is past, and an anticipation of what is to come, 
seem to be the two faculties by which man differs most from other ani- 
mals. Though brutes enjoy them in a limited degree, yet their whole life 
seems taken up in the present, regardless of the past and the future. 152 

Sorrow is another individual trait of human beings, according to Ed- 
ward Young. 

Irrationals all sorrow are beneath, 

That noble gift! that privilege of man! 153 

And, on the other hand, Addison says, "If we may believe our logi- 
cians, man is distinguished from all other creatures by the faculty of 
laughter." 154 Fielding asserts that the active principle to do what is 
right "may perhaps be said to constitute the most essential barrier be- 
tween us and our neighbours the brutes," 155 a discrimination closely 
allied to the explanation in the Anti-Lucretius, that free will is 

That right which Man distinguishes from Brute. 156 

Religion as a dividing line was recorded by Locke himself, though he 
adds, "Religion, which should most distinguish us from beasts, and 
ought most peculiarly to elevate us, as rational creatures, above brutes, 
is that wherein men often appear most irrational, and more senseless 
than beasts themselves." 157 Earlier Milton had said that God's image 
is "not imparted to the Brute," 158 and later Young exclaimed : 

Religion's all! ... 

Religion! the sole voucher man is man, 159 

151. Characteristics, ed. Robertson, II, 143. 152. Citizen of the World, Letter 44. 
153. Night Thoughts, V, 558-9. 154. Spectator, No. 494. 

155. Tom Jones, bk. IV, cap. 6: Works, ed. Browne, VI, 176. 

156. Anti-Lucretius, p. 418. 157. Essay, IV, xviii, 11. 

158. Paradise Lost, VIII, 441. 159. Night Thoughts, IV, 551, 554. 



Of Ideas 8i 

while in Bolingbroke we read the statement of Bishop Wilkins, that 
"the things which distinguish human nature from all other things 
are the chief principles and foundations of religion, namely, the ap- 
prehension of a deity, and an expectation of a future state after this 
life, which no other creature below man doth partake of." 160 Similar 
piety marks Wesley's answer to the question: 

What is the barrier between men and brutes, — the line which they cannot 
pass? It is not reason. Set aside that ambiguous term; exchange it for the 
plain word understanding, and who can deny that brutes have this? We 
may as well deny that they have sight or hearing. But it is this: man is 
capable of God; the inferior creatures are not. 161 

Rasselas, watching the goats browsing among the rocks of the Happy 
Valley and asking himself how he differs from them, concludes that, 
while like them he thirsts for a drink from the stream and hungers 
for food, unlike them he passes tedious and gloomy hours longing 
for those things "for which this place affords no gratification." 162 
Although Locke would allow as valid these several distinctions be- 
tween man and brute, freedom of will, civil government, sorrow, 
laughter, morality, as well as the several expressions of religion, he 
would credit them all to man's superior reasoning power rather than 
to the faculty of reason itself, traces of which are discoverable in in- 
ferior living beings. 

The problem of the mental characteristics of brutes, like the dis- 
tinction between wit and judgment, arose in connection with Locke's 
discussion of the simple ideas received from reflection. Previously we 
glanced at his treatment of the simple ideas belonging to sensation. 
To these now is added a third j^oup. of. simple ideas, conveyed to the 
mind by both sensation and reflection. 163 Power is an example of a 
simple idea having this dual source, for we may observe by reflection 
the power within our minds to will, and by sensation we recognize 
the power one material body has to affect another. 164 Other ideas de- 
rived from both sensation and reflection are unity, existence, and 

1 60. Wor\s, IV, 70-1. 

161. Quoted in Southey, Life of Wesley, ed. M. H. Fitzgerald, 2 vols., Oxford, 1Q25, 
II, 74. 

162. Johnson, Rasselas, cap. 2: ed. Chapman, pp. 14-15. 

163. Essay, II, vii. 164. Essay, II, vii, 8. 



82 John Locke and English Literature 

succession. But the most universal simple ideas constantly presented 
to our minds and bodies are pleasure and its opposite pain, one or the 
other of which "join themselves to almost all our ideas both of sensa- 
tion and reflection." 166 This truly mysterious association of pleasure 
and pain with all our ideas Locke believed to be the design of "the 
infinite wise Author of our being," that we might be urged to action, 
for if they 

were wholly separated from all our outward sensations, and inward 
thoughts, we should have no reason to prefer one thought or action to 
another; negligence to attention, or motion to rest. And so we should 
neither stir our bodies, nor employ our minds, but let our thoughts (if I 
may so call it) run adrift, without any direction or design, and suffer the 
ideas of our minds, like unregarded shadows, to make their appearances 
there, as it happened, without attending to them. 166 

In addition to their function as incentives to activity, pleasure and 
pain bear with them a higher significance. 

Beyond all this, we may find another reason why God hath scattered up 
and down several degrees of pleasure and pain, in all the things that en- 
viron and affect us; and blended them together in almost all that our 
thoughts and senses have to do with; — that we, finding imperfection, dis- 
satisfaction, and want of complete happiness, in all the enjoyments which 
the creatures can afford us, might be led to seek it in the enjoyment of 
Him with whom there is fullness of joy, and at whose right hand are 
pleasures for evermore. 167 

Addison twice remembered this thought, once expressing it in his 
own phrases, 168 and again repeating Locke's words for the comfort 
of the readers of the Spectator haunted by the demon melancholy that 
seemed to come to England "in an easterly wind." 169 

With this brief survey of simple ideas, some, like solidity, arising 
from sensation, others, like perception, originating in reflection, and 
still more produced, like the ideas of pleasure and pain, by both 
sensation and reflection, we come then to that statement which is 
Locke's clearest proof of the limitations of human understanding, 
namely, that these simple ideas are the foundations of all the knowl- 

165. Essay, II, vii, 2. 166. Essay, II, vii, 3. 167. Essay, II, vii, 5. 

168. Spectator, No. 413. 169. Ibid., No. 387. 



Of Ideas 83 

edge of which man is capable. Our furthest-reaching thoughts and 
most complex ideas, our dreams and guesses, contain in them noth- 
ing more than several of the simple ideas received by sensation and 
reflection. 

All those sublime thoughts which tower above the clouds, and reach as 
high as heaven itself, take their rise and footing here: in all that great 
extent wherein the mind wanders, in those remote speculations it may 
seem to be elevated with, it stirs not one jot beyond those ideas which 
sense or reflection have offered for its contemplation. 170 

If our wisdom will not reach beyond the combinations and variations 
that are possible for these simple ideas, still Locke assures us that we 
are not to feel hampered or confined by this restriction. 

Nor let any one think these too narrow bounds for the capacious mind of 
man to expatiate in, which takes its flight further than the stars, and 
cannot be confined by the limits of the world; that extends its thoughts 
often even beyond the utmost expansion of Matter, and makes excursions 
into that incomprehensible Inane. . . . Nor will it be so strange to think 
these few simple ideas sufficient to employ the quickest thought, or largest 
capacity; and to furnish the materials of all that various knowledge, and 
more various fancies and opinions of all mankind, if we consider how 
many words may be made out of the various composition of twenty-four 
letters; or if, going one step further, we will but reflect on the variety of 
combinations that may be made with barely one of the above-mentioned 
ideas, viz. number, whose stock is inexhaustible and truly infinite: and 
what a large and immense field doth extension alone afford the mathe- 
maticians? 171 

Through the remainder of the second book of the Essay Locke under- 
takes to prove his thesis, that complex ideas contain in them nothing 
more than several simple ideas derived from sensation and reflection. 
Although this theory in itself is not difficult, the analysis of complex 
ideas into their constituent simple ideas brings us to some of the most 
involved parts of the Essay. Locke himself realized that the simplicity 
of his philosophy might be too often confounded with the difficulty 
of the logic, and therefore urged his readers not to "stick in the inci- 
dents," but to strive for a comprehensive view of the work in its 

170. Essay, II, i, 24. 171. Essay, II, vii, 10. 









84 John Locke and English Literature 

main design, which "lies in a little compass." 172 If these chapters be- 
fore us had no consequence whatsoever in literature, the easy, com- 
prehensive view, that all complex ideas are limited by simple ideas, 
might suffice. But the discovery in literature of some concentrated 
attention to important conceptions contained in this part of the Essay 
rewards one for proceeding with a slight summary of Locke's re- 
markable account of the origin of complex ideas. 

Of the four types of complex ideas, the first are named simple 
modes, 

which are only variations, or different combinations of the same simple 
idea, without the mixture of any other; — as a dozen, or score; which are 
nothing but the ideas of so many distinct units added together, and . . . 
contained within the bounds of one simple idea. 173 

Thus the simple idea of unity, coming from both sensation and re- 
flection, provides all the complex ideas, or modes, of number: "by 
adding one to one, we have the complex idea of a couple; by putting 
twelve units together, we have the complex idea of a dozen; and so 
of a score, or a million, or any other number." 174 That two is a com- 
plex idea of the simple idea of unity, got from sensation and reflec- 
tion, is an easy and accurate illustration of Locke's entire theory of 
the formation of complex ideas. Unity is the basis for all numbers as 
well as two, and is likewise the foundation for our idea of infinity 
since the "endless addition or addibility (if any one like the word 
better) of numbers, so apparent to the mind, is that, I think, which 
gives us the clearest and most distinct idea of infinity." 175 The com- 
plex ideas of number, to repeat, are called simple modes because they 
are combinations of the same simple idea of unity without the mix- 
ture of any other. 

The simple idea of space, conveyed to the understanding by the 
sense of touch and sight, furnishes the many complex ideas of figure, 
since every figure, just as the shape of each letter on this page, is 
nothing but a termination of space, or, in other words, a circum- 
scribed space. 176 Consequendy the limidess number of existing and 
imaginable figures are all modifications of the simple idea of space 

172. Essay, ed. Fraser, I, 12, n. 2. 173. Essay, II, xii, 5. 

174. Essay, II, xvi, 2. 175. Essay, II, xvi, 8. 

176. Essay, II, xiii, 5. 



Of Ideas 85 

sensation has given us. Furthermore every idea of place, since it is 
determined by the space between any thing and two or more 
bodies, 177 is founded upon this simple idea. Because we have only a 
working idea of place for indicating the position of things in this 
world, and do not know the actual place of the universe "in the un- 
distinguishable inane of infinite space," 178 Locke denies that we have 
any real knowledge of place, thereby depriving man of another sup- 
posed possession of his mind. This same efficient simple idea of space 
furnishes all the complex ideas of distance which man has marked 
with the convenient lengths of feet, yards, and miles. "The power of 
repeating or doubling any idea we have of any distance, and adding 
it to the former as often as we will, without being ever able to come 
to any stop or stint, let us enlarge it as much as we will, is that which 
gives us the idea of immensity." 179 We advance by the same manner 
from immensity to the idea of infinite space, merely by taking a cer- 
tain stated unit or part of the simple idea of space and repeating it in 
our minds until we see that we can reach no end. Since our idea of 
infinity is "an endless growing idea," 190 it becomes impossible for 
human intelligence to possess a positive idea of any thing infinite. 
Knowing that infinity means an endless progression, we therefore 
realize that an endlessly progressing thing is an idea that cannot be 
held positively in a finite mind. 181 

So that what lies beyond our positive idea towards infinity, lies in ob- 
scurity, and has the indeterminate confusion of a negative idea, wherein I 
know I neither do nor can comprehend all I would, it being too large for 
a finite and narrow capacity. 182 

For our present purpose it is not so important to remember that the 
human understanding can possess no real idea of place or infinity, as 
it is to observe that these complex ideas, or modes, along with that of 
distance and immensity, are nothing more than combinations and 
variations of the simple idea of space that originates in sensation. 

All complex ideas, or modes, of time are derived from the simple 
idea of duration, got from reflection in a manner Locke explains 
most interestingly. 

177. Essay, II, xiii, 7. 178. Essay, II, xiii, 10. 

179. Essay, II, xiii, 4. 180. Essay, II, xvii, 7. 

181. Essay, II, xvii, 8. 182. Essay, II, xvii, 15. 



86 John Locke and English Literature 

It is evident to any one who will but observe what passes in his own mind, 
that there is a train of ideas which constantly succeed one another in his 
understanding, as long as he is awake. Reflection on these appearances 
of several ideas one after another in our minds, is that which furnishes us 
with the idea of succession: and the distance between any parts of that 
succession, or between the appearance of any two ideas in our minds, is 
that we call duration. . . . 

That we have our notion of succession and duration from this original, 
viz. from reflection on the train of ideas, which we find to appear one after 
another in our own minds, seems plain to me, in that we have no percep- 
tion of duration but by considering the train of ideas that take their turns 
in our understandings. When that succession of ideas ceases, our percep- 
tion of duration ceases with it; which every one clearly experiments in 
himself, whilst he sleeps soundly, whether an hour or a day, a month or a 
year; of which duration of things, while he sleeps or thinks not, he has no 
perception at all, but it is quite lost to him; and the moment wherein he 
leaves off to think, till the moment he begins to think again, seems to him 
to have no distance. And so I doubt not it would be to a waking man, if 
it were possible for him to keep only one idea in his mind, without varia- 
tion and the succession of others. And we see, that one who fixes his 
thoughts very intendy on one thing, so as to take but little notice of the 
succession of ideas that pass in his mind, whilst he is taken up with that 
earnest contemplation, lets slip out of his account a good part of that 
duration, and thinks that time shorter than it is. 188 

The latter part of this passage is quoted, not literally, but with some 
simplification, in the ninety-fourth issue of the Spectator. Addison 
often borrowed detached pieces from the Essay concerning Human 
Understanding for the purpose of introducing a paper, but in the 
writings of Sterne Locke's philosophy has more than a casual signifi- 
cance. If November 5, 1718, Tristram's birthday, seems interminably 
long, it is because the author was conscientiously following a very 
realistic time scheme, based upon Locke's idea of duration. 

It is about an hour and a half's tolerable good reading since my uncle 
Toby rung the bell, when Obadiah was ordered to saddle a horse, and go 
for Dr. Slop, the man-midwife; — so that no one can say, with reason, that 
I have not allowed Obadiah time enough, poetically speaking, and con- 
sidering the emergency too, both to go and come; — though, morally and 
truly speaking, the man perhaps has scarce had time to get on his boots. 

183. Essay, II, xiv, 3, 4. 



Of Ideas 87 

If the hypercritic will go upon this; and is resolved after all to take a 
pendulum, and measure the true distance betwixt the ringing of the bell, 
and the rap at the door; — and, after finding it to be no more than two 
minutes, thirteen seconds, and three fifths, — should take upon him to 
insult over me for such a breach in the unity, or rather probability of 
time; — I would remind him, that the idea of duration, and of its simple 
modes, is got merely from the train and succession of our ideas, — and this 
is the true scholastic pendulum — and by which, as a scholar, I will be tried 
in this matter, — abjuring and detesting the jurisdiction of all other pendu- 
lums whatever. 184 

Before drawing any conclusions from this contradictory statement, 
it must first be explained that there has not been one and a half hours' 
tolerable good reading since Obadiah was ordered to go for Dr. Slop. 
Instead Sterne has given us just a page or two, a few minutes' reading 
at the most, which would in no case represent time enough for Oba- 
diah to fetch Dr. Slop, had he not met the man-midwife just out- 
side Shandy-Hall as he was starting for his home eight miles away. 
His return after two minutes and thirteen and three-fifths seconds 
tolerable good reading is therefore explicable. If we now examine the 
time scheme of Tristram Shandy in the light of this passage, we shall 
see that it was Sterne's prodigious intention to make his novel tem- 
porally realistic to the minute by providing the reader with one hour's 
reading for every waking hour in the life of his hero, a program he 
completed with considerable care and success — through the first day. 
On Tristram's birthday Dr. Slop arrives on page 97 (I am using the 
little Oxford World's Classics edition of Tristram Shandy in count- 
ing the pages), and on page 169 Sterne informs us that the Doctor 
has been at the house two hours and ten minutes. These seventy- 
two pages then would take supposedly two hours and ten minutes to 
pass as a succession of ideas through the reader's mind. In like fashion 
the first day of Tristram's life ends on page 260, which 260 pages 
would conceivably take one day to pass as a succession of ideas 
through the reader's mind. According to this schedule it would have 
required 94,900 pages to cover a single year of Tristram's existence. If 
the Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy had been completed at 
this rate, assuming that Tristram lived to three score and ten, they 
would have filled 6,643,000 pages or 11,202 volumes the size of the 

184. Tristram Shandy, bk. II, cap. 8: ed. Cross, p. 80. 



88 John Locke and English Literature 

present Life and Opinions, which may explain why at the end of his 
account of Tristram's first day Sterne paused for a moment to express 
his despair of ever completing a definitive Life. 

Part of the train of ideas marking time in the reader's mind on 
Tristram's birthday are two complete chapters concerning Locke's 
idea of time, in which the pedantic Mr. Shandy and Uncle Toby 
present duration and its entire brood of complex ideas in their finest 
philosophical array. 

Boo\ 111. Chapter 18. 

It is two hours, and ten minutes — and no more — cried my father, looking 
at his watch, since Dr. Slop and Obadiah arrived — and I know not how 
it happens, brother Toby — but to my imagination it seems almost an age. 

— Here — pray, Sir, take hold of my cap — nay, take the bell along with 
it, and my pantoufles too. 

Now, Sir, they are all at your service; and I freely make you a present 
of 'em, on condition you give me all your attention to this chapter. 

Though my father said, "he knew not how it happened," — yet he knew 
very well how it happened; — and at the instant he spoke it, was pre- 
determined in his mind to give my uncle Toby a clear account of the 
matter by a metaphysical dissertation upon the subject of duration and 
its simple modes, in order to show my uncle Toby by what mechanism 
and mensurations in the brain it came to pass, that the rapid succession of 
their ideas, and the eternal scampering of the discourse from one thing to 
another, since Dr. Slop had come into the room, had lengthened out so 
short a period to so inconceivable an extent. — "I know not how it hap- 
pens — cried my father, — but it seems an age." 

— 'Tis owing entirely, quoth my uncle Toby, to the succession of our 
ideas. 

My father, who had an itch, in common with all philosophers, of rea- 
soning upon every thing which happened, and accounting for it too — 
proposed infinite pleasure to himself in this, of the succession of ideas, 
and had not the least apprehension of having it snatched out of his hands 
by my uncle Toby, who (honest man!) generally took every thing as it 
happened; — and who, of all things in the world, troubled his brain the 
least with abstruse thinking; — the ideas of time and space — or how we 
came by those ideas — or of what stuff they were made — or whether they 
were born with us — or we picked them up afterwards as we went along — 
or whether we did it in frocks — or not till we had got into breeches — with 



Of Ideas 89 

a thousand other inquiries and disputes about Infinity, Prescience, Liberty, 
Necessity, and so forth, upon whose desperate and unconquerable theories 
so many fine heads have been turned and cracked — never did my uncle 
Toby's the least injury at all; my father knew it — and was no less sur- 
prised than he was disappointed, with my uncle's fortuitous solution. 

Do you understand the theory of that affair? replied my father. 

Not I, quoth my uncle. 

— But you have some ideas, said my father, of what you talk about? — 

No more than my horse, replied my uncle Toby. 

Gracious heaven! cried my father, looking upwards, and clasping his 
two hands together — there is a worth in thy honest ignorance, brother 
Toby — 'twere almost a pity to exchange it for a knowledge. — But I'll tell 
thee. — 

To understand what time is aright, without which we never can com- 
prehend infinity, insomuch as one is a portion of the other — we ought 
seriously to sit down and consider what idea it is we have of duration, so 
as to give a satisfactory account how we came by it. — What is that to any 
body? quoth my uncle Toby. For if you will turn your eyes inwards upon 
your mind, continued my father, and observe attentively, you will per- 
ceive, brother, that whilst you and I are talking together, and thinking, 
and smoking our pipes, or whilst we receive successively ideas in our 
minds, we know that we do exist, and so we estimate the existence, or the 
continuation of the existence of ourselves, or any thing else, commensurate 
to the succession of any ideas in our minds, the duration of ourselves, or 
any such other thing co-existing with our thinking — and so according to 
that preconceived — You puzzle me to death, cried my uncle Toby. 

— 'Tis owing to this, replied my father, that in our computations of 
time, we are so used to minutes, hours, weeks, and months — and of clocks 
(I wish there was not a clock in the kingdom) to measure out their several 
portions to us, and to those who belong to us — that 'twill be well, if in 
time to come, the succession of our ideas be of any use or service to us 
at all. 

Now, whether we observe it or no, continued my father, in every sound 
man's head, there is a regular succession of ideas of one sort or other, 
which follow each other in train just like — A train of artillery? said my 
uncle Toby — A train of a fiddle-stick! — quoth my father — which follow 
and succeed one another in our minds at certain distances, just like the 
images in the inside of a lanthorn turned round by the heat of a candle. — 
I declare, quoth my uncle Toby, mine are more like a smoke-jack. — Then, 
brother Toby, I have nothing more to say to you upon the subject, said 
my father. 



90 John Locke and English Literature 

Boo\ 111. Chapter /o. 

— What a conjuncture was here lost! — My father in one of his best ex- 
planatory moods — in eager pursuit of a metaphysical point into the very 
regions, where clouds and thick darkness would soon have encompassed 
it about; — my uncle Toby in one of the finest dispositions for it in the 
world; his head like a smoke-jack; — the funnel unswept, and the ideas 
whirling round and round about in it, all obfuscated and darkened over 
with fuliginous matter! — By the tombstone of Lucian — if it is in being — 
if not, why then by his ashes! by the ashes of my dear Rabelais, and dearer 
Cervantes! — my father and my uncle Toby's discourse upon Time and 
Eternity — was a discourse devoudy to be wished for! and the petulancy 
of my father's humour, in putting a stop to it as he did, was a robbery of 
the Ontologic Treasury of such a jewel, as no coalition of great occasions 
and great men are ever likely to restore to it again. 

To return now to Locke, who may be thankful that all minds do 
not function like Uncle Toby's, men have divided duration into 
certain periods designated by the name of time. Since the most ex- 
pedient measure of time is that which separates duration into appar- 
ently equal portions, the diurnal and annual appearances of the sun 
have been taken as the standard of duration, though any periodical 
event might serve as well to mark duration. 

For a fit of an ague; the sense of hunger or thirst; a smell or a taste; or any 
other idea returning constandy at equidistant periods, and making itself 
universally be taken notice of, would not fail to measure out the course 
of succession, and distinguish the distances of time. 185 

Therefore days and years, and time itself, since they are not essential 
to duration, become merely complex ideas, or modes, developed out 
of a simple idea for the conveniences of human life. Through adding 
together in our minds certain arbitrary lengths of duration, such as 
days and years, we arrive at the idea of eternity: 

by being able to repeat ideas of any length of time, as of a minute, a year, 
or an age, as often as we will in our own thoughts, and adding them one 
to another, without ever coming to the end of such addition, any nearer 
than we can to the end of number, to which we can always add; we come 
by the idea of eternity. 186 

185. Essay, II, xiv, 20. 186. Essay, II, xiv, 31. 



Of Ideas 91 

While we know in this way that eternity is endless duration, for 
possessing a positive idea of any thing eternal our apprehensions are 
too weak. 187 This is, however, an incidental observation, and Locke's 
chief argument can be summarized in a sentence: the complex ideas, 
or modes, of time and eternity, originate in the simple idea of dura- 
tion we discover by reflecting upon the succession of ideas in our 
own minds. 

Pain and pleasure, already cited as simple ideas arising constantly 
from sensation and reflection, provide the great variety of complex 
ideas that come under the name of passions, love, desire, joy, hope 
and the like being nothing more than variations of the one simple 
idea of pleasure, while out of pain evolve the passions of hatred, sor- 
row, fear, despair, anger, and envy. 188 Pope's compact line, 

Modes of self-love the passions we may call, 189 

agrees exactly with this precise definition of the passions if we will 
interpret "self-love" to mean our natural desire for pleasure and 
aversion to pain. Locke's brief, shivering discussion of the passions, 
classifying each as a variation of the idea of pleasure or pain, is per- 
haps that part of the Essay which impresses one most with the possi- 
bilities inherent in simple ideas. When just two such ideas are suffi- 
cient to account for all the complex manifestations of human emo- 
tion, it is no wonder that all knowledge is reducible to simple ideas. 
Power is another simple idea, discovered by sensation from seeing 
the effects produced upon one physical body by another, and by re- 
flection from observing that our will "can at pleasure move several 
parts of our bodies which were at rest." 190 Having explained the ori- 
gin of this idea, Locke then discusses the numerous complex ideas 
that are built upon it, for example, the idea of liberty, which is no 
more than the physical power to do what the mind has the mental 
power to will. 191 As there is no immediate advantage to be had in 
considering more fully Locke's difficult chapter on power further 

1 87. Essay, II, xvii, 1 6. 

188. Essay, II, xx. Cf. Pope, Essay on Man, II, 1 17-18: 

"Love, hope, and joy, fair pleasures smiling train, 
Hate, fear, and grief, the family of pain." 

189. Essay on Man, II, 93. 190. Essay, II, vii, 8. 
191. Essay, II, xxi, 15. 



cs 



92 John Locke and English Literature 

than to suggest that all motions of body and mind both arise and 
terminate in this single simple idea, liberty may stand as a satisfactory 
example of a complex idea, or mode, originating in the simple idea of 
power which sensation and reflection have furnished. 

A second group of complex ideas, called notions, concerns most 
intimately our social life, for it includes all the ideas relating to hu- 
man conduct, or, more literally, men's ways of thinking and doing. 
To illustrate that our notions regarding behaviour contain in them 
nothing more than several simple ideas, we may take as an instance 
the complex idea called a "lie." The notion 

which the word lie stands for is made of these simple ideas: — (i) Articu- 
late sounds. (2) Certain ideas in the mind of the speaker. (3) Those 
words the signs of those ideas. (4) Those signs put together, by affirmation 
or negation, otherwise than the ideas they stand for are in the mind of 
the speaker. 192 

Locke's careful analysis of the simple ideas that unite to form the 
notion of a lie is perhaps made sport of by Swift in the following 
passage from the "Voyage to the Houyhnhnms :" 

I remember in frequent discourses with my master concerning the nature 
of manhood, in other parts of the world, having occasion to talk of lying 
and false representation, it was with much difficulty that he compre- 
hended what I meant, although he had otherwise a most acute judgment. 
For he argued thus: that the use of speech was to make us understand one 
another, and to receive information of facts; now if any one said the thing 
which was not, these ends were defeated; because I cannot properly be 
said to understand him; and I am so far from receiving information, that 
he leaves me worse than in ignorance, for I am led to believe a thing black 
when it is white, and short when it is long. And these were all the notions 
he had concerning that faculty of lying, so perfecdy well understood, and 
so universally practised, among human creatures. 193 

Swift's rather heavy satire proposes to remind us that we can know 
very well what a lie is without understanding the constituent parts 
of this notion, though it was Locke's primary task to isolate the sim- 
ple ideas contained in a complex idea. All other notions concerning 

192. Essay, II, xxii, 9. 

193. Gulliver's Travels: Prose Worths, ed. Temple Scott, VIII, (248). 



Of Ideas 93 

conduct like boldness, revenge, testiness, drunkenness, kindness, and 
mercy are also complex ideas, composed by the actions of men's 
minds from contemplating several simple ideas. In the first of the 
Moral Essays Pope has written, "Maxims are drawn from notions." 194 
Since notions, such as a lie, are complex ideas referring to conduct, 
maxims, which may be considered general truths regarding conduct, 
are quite naturally concerned with these notions. From the same 
Moral Essay one may take an example of a maxim drawn from the 
notion of a lie : 

... in the cunning, truth itselfs a lie. 195 

Pope's accuracy, judged by Locke, in asserting that maxims are 
drawn from notions, provides a memorable pleasure for those of us 
who are surprised to find the bard of Twickenham performing so 
faithfully in the remote fastnesses of philosophy. 

Substances comprise a third group of complex ideas, framed 
wholly out of the simple ideas received by sensation. Of the several 
ideas we include in material substance, those that are real and would 
exist whether they were perceived or not, 196 are solidity, extension, 
figure, and mobility, the primary qualities of matter. Several other 
ideas we attach to substance, having no real counterpart in matter, 
are entirely the results produced by the sensation of substance in the 
human mind. 197 Colour, sound, taste, heat are all such secondary 
qualities of substance that have no reality in outward objects and 
exist only in the minds of living beings. 198 The distinction between 
primary and secondary qualities of substance, which was peculiarly 

194. Moral Essays, I, 14. 195. Ibid., I, 68. 

196. Essays, II, xxiii, 9. 

197. The ideas produced in us by substance are called accidents (Locke, Essay, II, 
xxiii, 2), easily remembered by the burlesque in Martinus Scriblerus: "When he was 
told a substance was that which was subject to accidents; then soldiers (quoth Crambe) 
are the most substantial people in the world" (Pope, Wor\s, ed. Elwin and Courthope, 
X, 308). 

198. Cf. Martinus Scriblerus: "At the same time he warned Martin, that what he 
now learned as a logician, he must forget as a natural philosopher; that though he now 
taught them that accidents inhered in the subject, they would find in time that there 
was no such thing; and that colour, taste, smell, heat, and cold, were not in the things, 
but only phantasms of our brains" (Pope, Worhjs, ed. Elwin and Courthope, X, 308- 
09). 



94 John Locke and English Literature 

suggestive to the literary mind, appears much improved and orna- 
mented in the pages of the Spectator. 

Things would make but a poor appearance to the eye, if we saw them only 
in their proper figures and motions. And what reason can we assign for 
their exciting in us many of those ideas which are different from anything 
that exists in the objects themselves (for such are light and colours), were 
it not to add supernumerary ornaments to the universe, and make it 
more agreeable to the imagination? We are everywhere entertained with 
pleasing shows and apparitions, we discover imaginary glories in the 
heavens, and in the earth, and see some of this visionary beauty poured 
out upon the whole creation; but what a rough unsighdy sketch of Na- 
ture should we be entertained with, did all her colouring disappear, and 
the several distinctions of light and shade vanish? In short, our souls are 
at present delightfully lost and bewildered in a pleasing delusion, and we 
walk about like the enchanted hero of a romance, who sees beautiful 
casdes, woods, and meadows; and at the same time hears the warbling of 
birds, and the purling of streams; but upon the finishing of some secret 
spell, the fantastic scene breaks up, and the disconsolate knight finds him- 
self on a barren heath, or in a solitary desert. 199 

Following this imaginative picture of the beauty emanating from the 
secondary qualities of matter, Addison concludes: 

I have here supposed that my reader is acquainted with that great mod- 
ern discovery, which is at present universally acknowledged by all the in- 
quirers into natural philosophy, namely, that light and colours, as appre- 
hended by the imagination, are only ideas in the mind, and not qualities 
that have any existence in matter. As this is a truth which has been proved 
incontestably by many modern philosophers, and is indeed one of the 
finest speculations in that science, if the English reader would see the no- 
tion explained at large, he may find it in the eighth chapter of the second 
book of Mr. Locke's "Essay on Human Understanding." 

Nowhere in Locke's chapter on substance, however, will one find 
anything so poetically expressive as Addison's allegory of the en- 
chanted hero of romance, delighting in a world made beautiful by 
the unreal qualities of outward objects. A merry, but equally enlight- 
ening treatment of the secondary attributes of substance is an account 

199. Spectator, No. 413. 



Of Ideas 95 

in the Guardian of the performances of Jack Lizard at his return 
home after a year and a half's residence in the university. 

For the first Week he dealt wholly in Paradoxes. It was a common Jest 
with him to pinch one of his Sister's Lap-Dogs, and afterwards prove he 
could not feel it. When the Girls were sorting a Set of Knots, he would 
demonstrate to them that all the Ribbands were of the same Colour; or 
rather, says ]ac\, of no Colour at all. My Lady Lizard her self, though she 
was not a litde pleas'd with her Son's Improvements, was one Day almost 
angry with him; for having accidentally burnt her Fingers as she was 
lighting the Lamp for her Tea-pot; in the midst of her Anguish, ]ac\ 
laid hold of the Opportunity to instruct her that there was no such thing 
as Heat in Fire. 200 

The distinction between primary and secondary qualities, applied 
thus to substance, was easily transferred to other matters, so that 
there were, I suppose, few subjects of Eighteenth-Century thought 
that did not lend themselves to this division. Addison, for instance, 
separates the pleasures of imagination into primary and secondary 
classes. 201 In our quest to discover the ruling passions in men Pope 
warns against believing a secondary passion to be the prime one. 

In this search, the wisest may mistake, 
If second qualities for first they take. 202 

In a sermon of Sterne we are urged to distinguish carefully between 
the primary and secondary qualities of religion lest we yield to the 
general tendency to construe pomp, or appearance, for inner worth, 
or substance. 

This is so evident, that even in our own church, where there is the great- 
est chastity in things of this nature — and of which none are retained in our 
worship, but what I believe, tend to excite and assist it — yet so strong a 
propensity is there in our nature to sense — and so unequal a match is the 
understanding of the bulk of mankind, for the impressions of outward 
things — that we see thousands who every day mistake the shadow for the 
substance, and was it fairly put to the trial would exchange the reality 
for the appearance. 203 

200. Guardian, No. 24. 201. Spectator, No. 411. 

202. Moral Essays, I, 210-11. 

203. "Pharisee and Publican": Sermons, I, 79. 



g6 John Locke and English Literature 

The physical distinction established by Locke and others between 
the qualities of matter accustomed men's minds to think in terms of 
primary and secondary. 

In concluding his discussion of substance Locke asserts that, while 
we possess ideas of some of the qualities of matter, we do not know 
exactly what holds these several qualities together, "the idea ... to 
which we give the general name substance, being nothing but the 
supposed, but unknown, support of those qualities we find existing, 
which we imagine cannot subsist sine re substante." 204 The Essay 
strengthens its argument by reducing the Latin substantio into the 
plain English equivalent, "under-propping," which all will agree is 
a very obscure idea. 205 We might here turn to Martinus Scriblerus 
and read: 

This brings into my mind a project to banish metaphysicks out of Spain, 
which it was supposed might be effectuated by this method: that nobody 
should use any compound or decompound of the substantial verbs, but 
as they are read in the common conjugations: for everybody will allow, 
that if you debar a metaphysician from ens, essentia, substantia, etc. there 
is an end of him. 206 

By revealing what an imperfect and uncertain idea we have of that 
"under-propping" which supports the qualities of matter, Locke has 
practically done away with substance. 

Of spiritual substance we likewise have some ideas but no perfect 
knowledge. Having learned by reflection that spirit or mind can 
perceive and recall ideas, that it is able to will and put a body into 
motion by thought, 207 we unite these ideas of perception, memory, 
and will to form our complex idea of a spiritual substance. But again, 
what the under-propping is that holds these separate simple ideas 
together we know no more than we do the substance that supports 
our several ideas of matter, with the result that the cohesion of 
thought and will in a spiritual substance is as mysterious as the 
union of solidity and extension in a piece of matter. "But be that as 
it will," Locke says, "I think, we have as many and as clear ideas be- 
longing to spirit as we have belonging to body, the substance of each 

204. Essay, II, xxiii, 2. 205. Essay, II, xiii, 20. 

206. Pope, Worths, ed. El win and Courthope, X, 313-14. 

207. Essay, II, xxiii, 18. 



Of Ideas 97 

being equally unknown to us." 208 Since it would be as rational to / 
question the existence of matter as to doubt the reality of spiritual 
substance, 209 Locke was sceptical of neither, believing that man's 
knowledge both of matter and of spirit is sufficient for the perform- 
ance of his duties in this world. Out of an unwillingness to assent to 
this compromise arose the philosophies of Berkeley and Hume. 
Berkeley in Ireland, by choosing to deny the existence of material 
substance, arrived at a philosophy of idealism that is perhaps the 
finest product of Celtic imagination. 210 Hume, the Scot, took both 
steps and questioned the reality of spiritual substance as well, where- 
upon he was plunged into a complete, but quite romantic scepti- 
cism. 211 By comparison one is impressed with the English common 
sense of the Essay concerning Human Understanding that is absent 
in these later, more poetic philosophies. 

To summarize in a short space the important facts about substance : 
all our complex ideas of matter and spirit are constructed out of 
simple ideas: 

the simple ideas we receive from sensation and reflection are the bounda- 
ries of our thoughts; beyond which the mind, whatever efforts it would 
make, is not able to advance one jot; nor can it make any discoveries, 
when it would pry into the nature and hidden causes of those ideas. 212 

Human understanding is forbidden to look beyond the few simple 
ideas it has of material and spiritual substance to discover what holds 
these groups of ideas together: 

whensoever we would proceed beyond these simple ideas we have from 
sensation and reflection, and dive further into the nature of things, we 
fall presendy into darkness and obscurity, perplexedness and difficulties, 
and can discover nothing further but our own blindness and ignorance. 218 

Locke's account of the origin of ideas in the human mind ends 
with the consideration of a fourth group of complex ideas, called 
relations, which are obtained by comparing one idea with another. 214 
Since any idea may be considered in relation to a multitude of things, 

208. Essay, II, xxiii, 28. 209. Essay, II, xxiii, 31. 

210. Locke, Essay, ed. Fraser, I, 423, n. 3. 

211. Ibid. 212. Essay, II, xxiii, 29. 
213. Essay, II, xxiii, 32. 214. Essay, II, xxv, 1. 



98 John Locke and English Literature 

the number of these complex ideas is unlimited. 215 One man, for 
example, 

may at once be concerned in, and sustain all these following relations, 
and many more, viz. father, brother, son, grandfather, grandson, father- 
in-law, son-in-law, husband, friend, enemy, subject, general, judge, pa- 
tron, client, professor, European, Englishman, islander, servant, master, 
possessor, captain, superior, inferior, bigger, less, older, younger, con- 
temporary, like, unlike, &c, to an almost infinite number. 216 

Mrs. Western, having applied herself to philosophy so that she was 
able to lecture on the several relations in which a human creature 
stands in society, 217 could probably add to this list. And yet of this 
multitude of relations, "all," Locke says, "terminate in, and are con- 
cerned about those simple ideas, either of sensation or reflection, 
which I think to be the whole materials of all our knowledge." 218 The 
instance of father, a natural relation, bears this out: 

when the word father is mentioned: first, there is meant that particular 
species, or collective idea, signified by the word man; secondly, those 
sensible simple ideas, signified by the word generation; and, thirdly, the 
effects of it, and all the simple ideas signified by the word child. 219 

By following this method of investigation Locke maintained that all 
ideas of relation may be analyzed into their constituent simple ideas. 
Grouped with relations are moral ideas, such as murder, which we 
acquire by comparing men's actions to three kinds of laws, the divine, 
the civil, and the social. 220 

In my plain sense of things, my uncle Toby would answer, — every such 
instance is downright Murder, let who will commit It. — There lies your 
mistake, my father would reply; — for, in Foro Scientiae there is no such 
thing as Murder, — 'tis only Death, brother. 221 

Mr. Shandy was correct. A certain type of death which nature shows 
us becomes murder only after we have related the idea to the laws 
of God and man. When the complex idea of murder is taken asunder 

215. Essay, II, xxv, 7. 216. Ibid. 

217. Fielding, Tom Jones, bk. VII, cap. 3: Wor\s, ed. Browne, VI, 365-7. 

218. Essay, II, xxv, 9. 219. Essay, II, xxviii, 18. 

220. Essay, II, xxviii, 7. 

221. Sterne, Tristram Shandy, bk. I, cap. 21: ed. Cross, p. 54. 



Of Ideas 99 

it is discovered to be a combination of several simple ideas, assembled 
in the following manner: 

First, from reflection on the operations of our own minds, we have the 
ideas of willing, considering, purposing beforehand, malice, or wishing 
ill to another; and also of life, or perception, and self-motion. Secondly, 
from sensation we have the collection of those simple sensible ideas which 
are to be found in a man, and of some action, whereby we put an end to 
perception and motion in the man; all which simple ideas are compre- 
hended in the word murder. This collection of simple ideas, being found 
by me to agree or disagree with the esteem of the country I have been 
bred in, and to be held by most men there worthy praise or blame, I call 
the action virtuous or vicious: if I have the will of a supreme invisible 
Lawgiver for my rule, then, as I supposed the action commanded or for- 
bidden by God, I call it good or evil, sin or duty: and if I compare it to 
the civil law, the rule made by the legislative power of the country, I call 
it lawful or unlawful, a crime or no crime. 222 

By relating ideas one with another we learn also the identity of 
persons and things, a problem which Locke discusses in one of the 
most interesting chapters of the Essay. 223 The question, how we 
know a person or an object is the same today that it was at any other 
previous time, 224 can be answered only by comparing the person or 
thing to itself as existing at another time. 225 A thing, or mass of mat- 
ter, is the same now that it was at an earlier time only if the compari- 
son reveals that it contains the same pieces and particles that for- 
merly constituted it, since matter has not that ability of living beings 
to transfer consciousness to another form and still preserve its iden- 
tity. 226 The Scriblerus Club, not too seriously, ridiculed Locke's fine 
reasoning on this point by proving that a piece of matter enjoys just 
as much or as little consciousness as a living being, in evidence of 
which they cited this "familiar instance." 

In every jack there is a meat-roasting quality, which neither resides in the 
fly, nor in the weight, nor in any particular wheel of the jack, but is the 
result of the whole composition: so in an animal the self-consciousness is 
not a real quality inherent in one being (any more than meat-roasting in 

222. Essay, II, xxviii, 14. 223. Essay, II, xxvii. 

224. Essay, II, xxvii, 1. 225. Ibid. 

226. Essay, II, xxvii, 4. 



ioo John Locke and English Literature 

a jack) but the result of several modes or qualities in the same subject. As 
the fly, the wheels, the chain, the weight, the cords, etc. make one jack, 
so the several parts of the body make one animal. As perception, or con- 
sciousness, is said to be inherent in this animal, so is meat-roasting said 
to be inherent in the jack. As sensation, reasoning, volition, memory, etc. 
are the several modes of thinking; so roasting of beef, roasting of mutton, 
roasting of pullets, geese, turkeys, etc. are the several modes of meat-roast- 
ing. And as the general quality of meat-roasting, with its several modifi- 
cations as to beef, mutton, pullets, etc. does not inhere in any one part of 
the jack; so neither does consciousness, with its several modes of sensa- 
tion, intellection, volition, etc. inhere in any one, but is the result from 
the mechanical composition of the whole animal. 227 

For a living being, Locke maintained, identity stands independent of 
the particles of matter that compose the body, and is determined 
solely by a consciousness of having performed certain actions. 

Had I the same consciousness that I saw the ark and Noah's flood, as that 
I saw an overflowing of the Thames last winter, or as that I write now, I 
could no more doubt that I who write this now, that saw the Thames over- 
flowed last winter, and that viewed the flood at the general deluge, was 
the same self, — place that self in what substance you please — than that I 
who write this am the same myself now whilst I write (whether I consist 
of all the same substance, material or immaterial, or no) that I was yester- 
day. For as to this point of being the same self, it matters not whether this 
present self be made up of the same or other substances. 228 

This passage from the Essay is quoted by Addison in a Spectator 
paper with some comments, obviously to introduce an amusing "story 
in some measure applicable to this piece of philosophy, which I read 
the other day in the 'Persian Tales.' " 229 The Scriblerus Club supplies 
us with numerous sly observations upon this power of living beings 
to transmit consciousness from one piece of substance to another, 
thereby preserving their identity. 

The parts (say they) of an animal body are perpetually changed, and the 
fluids which seem to be the subject of consciousness, are in a perpetual 
circulation: so that the same individual particles do not remain in the 

227. Martinus Scriblerus: Pope, Wor\s, ed. Elwin and Courthope, X, 332-3. 

228. Essay, II, xxvii, 16. 229. Spectator, No. 578. 



Of Ideas ioi 

brain; from whence it will follow, that the idea of individual conscious- 
ness must be constantly translated from one particle of matter to another, 
whereby the particle A, for example, must not only be conscious, but con- 
scious that it is the same being with the particle B that went before. 

We answer, this is only a fallacy of the imagination, and is to be under- 
stood in no other sense than that maxim of the English law, that the King 
never dies. This power of thinking, self -moving, and governing the whole 
machine, is communicated from every particle to its immediate successor; 
who, as soon as he is gone, immediately takes upon him the government, 
which still preserves the unity of the whole system. 

They make a great noise about this individuality: how a man is con- 
scious to himself that he is the same individual he was twenty years ago; 
notwithstanding the flux state of the particles of matter that compose his 
body. We think this is capable of a very plain answer, and may be easily 
illustrated by a familiar example. 

Sir John Cuder had a pair of black worsted stockings, which his maid 
darned so often with silk, that they became at last a pair of silk stockings. 
Now supposing those stockings of Sir John's endued with some degree of 
consciousness at every particular darning, they would have been sensible, 
that they were the same individual pair of stockings, both before and after 
the darning: and this sensation would have continued in them through all 
the succession of darnings: and yet after the last of all, there was not per- 
haps one thread left of the first pair of stockings, but they were grown to 
be silk stockings, as was said before. 

And whereas it is affirmed, that every animal is conscious of some in- 
dividual self -moving, self -determining principle; it is answered, that, as 
in a House of Commons all things are determined by a majority, so it is 
in every animal system. As that which determines the House is said to be 
the reason of the whole assembly; it is no otherwise with thinking beings, 
who are determined by the greater force of several particles; which, like 
so many unthinking members, compose one thinking system. 230 

While one cannot but be refreshed with the attitude of the Scriblerus 
Club towards serious issues in Locke's philosophy, at the same time 
one is greatly impressed with the knowledge of the Essay that such 
thorough satire implies. In quite another attitude did Bishop Butler 
seek evidence for man's immortality in Locke's discussion of what 
constitutes personal identity. If the identity of an individual depends 
solely upon his consciousness of having performed certain acts and 

230. Martinus Scriblerus: Pope, Wor\s, ed. Elwin and Courthope, X, 333-4. 



102 John Locke and English Literature 

not at all upon the preservation of any part or parts of the body, if 
in other words the individual remains the same though a hand, a foot, 
or other part of the body be lost, may not the individual survive, 
Buder argues, though the entire body be destroyed? 231 

231. Analogy, I, i, 15. 



BOOK III 
Of Words 

THE third book of the Essay concerning Human Understand- 
ing is something "new and a litde out of the way," 1 for it 
presents in brief space a complete philosophy of language by 
treating words as signs of the simple and complex ideas we have just 
been discussing. As competent a critic of Locke as Dugald Stewart 
has pronounced this study of the relation of words to thought the 
most valuable part of the Essay. 2 

Whatever tends to diminish the ambiguities of speech, or to fix, with more 
logical precision, the import of general terms; — above all, whatever tends 
to embody, in popular forms of expression, the ideas and feelings of the 
wise and good, augments the natural powers of the human understanding, 
and enables the succeeding race to start from a higher ground than was 
occupied by their fathers. The remark applies with peculiar force to the 
study of the Mind itself; a study, where the chief source of error is the 
imperfection of words; and where every improvement on this great in- 
strument of thought may be jusdy regarded in the light of a discovery. 3 

While the true influence of Locke's philosophy of words on the litera- 
ture of the Eighteenth Century cannot be readily estimated, it is cer- 
tain that, wherever the Essay went and affected men, it awakened an 
interest in the significance of words and enabled writers to be more 
intelligent in their use of language. Addison said : 

Mr. Locke's "Essay on Human Understanding" would be thought a very 
odd book for a man to make himself master of, who would get a reputa- 
tion by critical writings; though at the same time it is very certain that an 
author who has not learned the art of distinguishing between words and 
things, and of ranging his thoughts, and setting them in proper lights, 
whatever notions he may have, will lose himself in confusion and ob- 
scurity.* 

i. Essay, III, v, 16. 

2. Dissertation: Wor\s, ed. Hamilton, I, 67. 

3. Ibid., I, 77. 4. Spectator, No. 291. 



104 John Locke and English Literature 

Locke's account of the origin of language is as simple as it is ra- 
tional. "God, having designed man for a sociable creature," 5 endowed 
him with the ability to name ideas, that he might both communicate 
and record his thoughts. Since this divine favour, however, included 
only the power to invent names, names themselves are entirely the 
creation of the human mind, with the result that they have no innate, 
natural connection with the ideas they represent: 6 

words . . . came to be made use of by men as the signs of their ideas; 
not by any natural connexion that there is between particular articulate 
sounds and certain ideas, for then there would be but one language 
amongst all men; but by a voluntary imposition, whereby such a word is 
made arbitrarily the mark of such an idea. 7 

After long familiarity with words we come, it is true, to believe they 
have some fundamental relation to the ideas for which they stand, 
while actually no such kinship exists. 8 This denial of the divinity of 
language is apparently another expression of the warfare against in- 
nateness which Locke had begun in the first book of the Essay. Innate 
ideas and an innate, natural language keep such close company that 
they are generally accepted or rejected together. Wordsworth, we 
find, asserted both 9 as firmly as Locke denied them. Not only does 
language, according to the Essay, have an humble, human origin, but 

they have not been philosophers or logicians, or such who have troubled 
themselves about forms and essences, that have made the general names 
that are in use amongst the several nations of men: but those more or less 
comprehensive terms have, for the most part, in all languages, received 
their birth and signification from ignorant and illiterate people, who 
sorted and denominated things by those sensible qualities they found in 
them. 10 

Language therefore, afflicted by the imperfections implied in any 
human creation, suffers from the further misfortune of having been 
formed for the most part by rude and unlearned men. 
All names, Locke further asserts, instead of representing particular 

5. Essay, III, i, 1. 6. Essay, III, ix, 4. 

7. Essay, III, ii, 1. 8. Essay, III, ii, 8. 

9. Preface, 1800.: "the real language of nature" (Poetical Worths, Cambridge Edi- 
tion, p. 795). 

10. Essay, III, vi, 25. 



Of Words 105 

ideas, are general terms, since it would exceed the capacity o£ the 
human mind to invent and recall a distinct name for every separate 
idea man meets with. 11 The formation of all language is made pos- 
sible only by our ability to abstract a few ideas from a great number 
of particular things. Finding the simple idea of whiteness present in 
a piece of paper, in snow, in the clouds, and in coundess other indi- 
vidual objects, man abstracts that idea from its several surroundings 
and devises the name of whiteness to designate that idea wherever it 
presents itself, in paper, snow, or clouds. Whiteness therefore is a 
general word, as are all names for simple ideas. A consideration of the 
word "man" will demonstrate that names for complex ideas are like- 
wise general. Of the millions of separate men living on the earth, we 
overlook the individual characteristics and peculiarities by which one 
is distinguished from another, to discover those few qualities, such 
as reason and a certain shape of body, which are common to nearly 
all mankind. These few universal traits are then abstracted, and the 
general name of man is given to that group of ideas wherever it ap- 
pears. The process of abstracting ideas, so essential for the construc- 
tion of language, is perhaps best explained in a satiric passage issuing 
from the Scriblerus Club. 

Martin supposed an universal man to be like a knight of the shire, or a 
burgess of a corporation, that represented a great many individuals. His 
father asked him, if he could not frame the idea of an universal Lord 
Mayor? Martin told him, that, never having seen but one Lord Mayor, 
the idea of that Lord Mayor always returned to his mind; that he had 
great difficulty to abstract a Lord Mayor from his fur gown, and gold 
chain; nay, that the horse he saw the Lord Mayor ride upon, not a litde 
disturbed his imagination. On the other hand Crambe, to shew himself 
of a more penetrating genius, swore that he could frame a conception of 
a Lord Mayor, not only without his horse, gown, and gold chain, but even 
without stature, feature, colour, hands, head, feet, or any body; which he 
supposed was the abstract of a Lord Mayor. 12 

For the unsophisticated Martin it was very difficult to overlook the 
individual attributes, the fur gown and the gold chain, of the one 
Lord Mayor he had seen, and form an idea of a general Lord Mayor; 

11. Essay, III, iii, 2. 

12. Martinus Scriblerus: Pope, Wor\s, ed. Elwin and Courthope, X, 309. 



io6 John Locke and English Literature 

on the other hand we must not imitate Crambe, who had apparendy 
taken abstraction to mean annihilation. 

The names of simple ideas, though they are general terms, seldom 
cause misunderstanding for they represent single simple ideas, well 
known to each man by the experience of sensation or reflection. In 
fact, only by experience can the signification of such names be dis- 
covered. No definition by words can, for example, furnish an ex- 
planation of the idea of whiteness or any other colour which has not 
actually been sensed through sight. Therefore a man blind from his 
birth, with all the assistance of definition and the other four senses, 
is incapable of understanding the meaning of words designating 
colours. 

For, to hope to produce an idea of light or colour by a sound, however 
formed, is to expect that sounds should be visible, or colours audible; and 
to make the ears do the office of all the other senses. Which is all one as to 
say, that we might taste, smell, and see by the ears: a sort of philosophy 
worthy only of Sancho Panca, who had the faculty to see Dulcinea by 
hearsay. 13 

In connection with his assertion that experience is essential for com- 
prehending the names of simple ideas, Locke relates: 

A studious blind man, who had mightily beat his head about visible ob- 
jects, and made use of the explication of his books and friends, to under- 
stand those names of light and colours which often came in his way, 
bragged one day, That he now understood what scarlet signified. Upon 
which, his friend demanding what scarlet was? The blind man answered, 
It was like the sound of a trumpet. Just such an understanding of the 
name of any other simple idea will he have, who hopes to get it only from 
a definition, or other words made use of to explain it. 14 

13. Essay, HI, iv, 11. 

14. Ibid. Erika von Erhardt-Siebold in an article entitled "Harmony of the Senses 
in English, German, and French Romanticism," in PMLA XL VII (1932), pp. 577-92, 
cites this passage with the note (p. 577, n. 2): "The identity of the blind man was 
later revealed by Mme de Stael; the famous name of the English mathematician 
Nicholas Saunderson, blind from his birth, gave substance to his fantastic experience." 
Mme de Stael does record that the "aveugle-ne Sanderson" said "qu'il se representait 
la couleur ecarlate comme le son de la trompette" {De L'Allemagne, Part III, cap. 10: 
4th ed., 4 vols., Paris, 181 8, IV, 54). But Saunderson, not born until 1682 (DNB), 
could hardly be the "studious blind man" of whom Locke had written in the Essay 
before 1690. Saunderson is referred to in Boswell's Life: "We talked of the notion 



Of Words 107 

Locke's striking illustration to demonstrate what an imperfect 
knowledge one has of simple ideas without the proper experiences of 
sensation or reflection, may be accused of insubordination. The story 
of the blind man who imagined scarlet and the sound of a trumpet 
to be the same provided an interesting anecdote for the Tatler, 15 many 
of whose readers must have been as fascinated by this passage in the 
Essay as Fielding, who twice in Tom Jones mentions Locke's blind 
man. In the first chapter of the fourth book of this novel we read: 

Thus the hero is always introduced with a flourish of drums and trumpets, 
in order to rouse a martial spirit in the audience, and to accommodate 
their ears to bombast and fustian, which Mr. Locke's blind man would 
not have grossly erred in likening to the sound of a trumpet. 16 

In another introductory chapter Fielding uses the incident of the 
blind man to prove to every cold and unromantic reader of Tom 
Jones that love, as though it were a simple, undefinable idea, can be 
understood only through experience. 

To treat of the effects of love to you must be as absurd as to discourse on 
colours to a man born blind; since possibly your idea of love may be as 
absurd as that which we are told such blind man once entertained of the 
colour scarlet; that colour seemed to him to be very much like the sound 
of a trumpet: and love probably may, in your opinion, very gready re- 
semble a dish of soup, or a sirloin of roast-beef. 17 

The fact that a blind man lacked knowledge of the simple, unde- 
finable ideas of colour, was a considerable portion of the wisdom of 
the age. Among the members of Swift's Grand Academy of Lagado 
is "a man born blind, who had several apprentices in his own condi- 
tion: their employment was to mix colours for painters, which their 



iming 
nice of 
ife of I 



Sanderson mentions his having attempted to do it, but that he found he was aiming 
at an impossibility; that to be sure a difference in the surface makes the difference 
colours; but that difference is so fine, that it is not sensible to the touch" (Lif< 
Johnson, ed. Hill and Powell, II, 190). Saunderson figures prominently in Diderot's 
Letter on the Blind for the Use of Those who See, published in 1749. (See John Morley, 
Diderot and the Encyclopedists, I, 88-94.) The limitations in knowledge of this learned 
and unfortunate individual seem frequently to have been used in the Eighteenth 
Century to illustrate the importance of the senses for obtaining ideas. 

15. Tatler, No. 227. 

16. Tom Jones, bk. IV, cap. 1: Wor\s, ed. Browne, VI, 155. 

17. Ibid., bk. VI, cap. 1: Wor\s, ed. Browne, VI, 292-3. 



io8 John Locke and English Literature 

master taught them to distinguish by feeling and smelling." 18 The 
warning included in a piece of Swift's philosophical writing, "to tell 
my critics and witlings, that they are no more judges of this, than a 
man that is born blind can have any true idea of colours" 19 was nec- 
essary if there was truth in Isaac Watts's rueful observation, "This is 
the Way of the World : Blind Men will talk of the Beauty of Colours, 
and of the Harmony or Disproportion of Figures in Painting; the 
Deaf will prate of Discords in Musick." etc., etc. 20 Johnson reveals 
his familiarity with this popular simile in the following criticism: 

Mr. Clark compares the obstinacy of those who disbelieve the genuine- 
ness of Ossian to a blind man, who should dispute the reality of colours, 
and deny that the British troops are cloathed in red. The blind man's 
doubt would be rational, if he did not know by experience that others 
have a power which he himself wants. 21 

It is certain that the Eighteenth Century believed a man born blind 
had no conception of colours : it is only probable, however, that this 
belief was always supported with a knowledge of that part of Locke's 
Essay which demonstrates that all simple ideas are undefinable. 

While definition, which is the enumeration of the several ideas 
represented by a word, serves in the case of names of complex ideas, 
names of simple ideas forbid such description because they obviously 
cannot be resolved into separate parts. These undefinable names of 
simple ideas, "too plain to admit a definition," 22 Johnson postulated 
as the foundation of the definitions of the names of complex ideas in 
his Dictionary, so that it might be said that a complete list of the 
words in Johnson's or any other dictionary which are incapable of 
being understood otherwise than by actual experience would contain 
all the simple ideas which Locke has made the foundation of knowl- 
edge. However, 

though the names of simple ideas have not the help of definition to de- 
termine their signification, yet that hinders not but that they are gen- 

18. Gulliver's Travels: Prose Wor\s, ed. Temple Scott, VIII, 187. 

19. Tritical Essay upon the Faculties of the Mind: Prose Worlds, ed. Temple Scott, 

I, 293. 

20. Improvement of the Mind, Part I, cap. 5: ed. 1741, pp. 85-6. 

21. Boswell, Life of Johnson, ed. Hill and Powell, IV, 252. 

22. Johnson, Preface to the Dictionary: Worths, V, 34. 



Of Words 109 

erally less doubtful and uncertain than those of mixed modes [notions] 
and substances; because they, standing only for one simple perception, 
men for the most part easily and perfecdy agree in their signification; and 
there is little room for mistake and wrangling about their meaning. He 
that knows once that whiteness is the name of that colour he has observed 
in snow or milk, will not be apt to misapply that word, as long as he re- 
tains that idea; which when he has quite lost, he is not apt to mistake the 
meaning of it, but perceives he understands it not. There is neither a 
multiplicity of simple ideas to be put together, which makes the doubt- 
fulness in the names of mixed modes; nor a supposed, but an unknown, 
real essence, with properties depending thereon, the precise number 
whereof is also unknown, which makes the difficulty in the names of 
substances. 23 

If the names of simple ideas are rarely confusing, words standing 
for complex ideas, especially ideas suggesting substance, permit every 
type of misunderstanding for the reason that they contain several 
simple ideas. Who shall determine just how many and what simple 
ideas the name of a complex idea shall represent ? Man, as a species, 
is the best and most interesting example for illustrating the vague- 
ness and imperfection of a name of a complex idea. That no two per- 
sons, perhaps, would agree upon the essential ideas to be signified by 
the name man is partly explained by the fact that nature has not 
created a distinct species of man, marked by certain definite ideas. 
Instead of setting men apart into a separate group by themselves, na- 
ture has fused mankind indivisibly and indistinguishably into the 
great chain of life that ascends from lowest living forms upward 
through men and angels to a final God. 24 Since man both merges 
inseparably into a higher world of spiritual beings and blends equally 
into the condition of lower animals, any effort to abstract an order of 
man from this ascending and descending scale of life is an arbitrary 
departure from natural truth. 25 Uncertainty and error are therefore 
at once inherent in the name of the complex idea of man, since nature 
has not designed human beings as a definite class by themselves with 

23. Essay, III, iv, 15. 24. Essay, III, vi, 12. 

25. Cf. Watts, Philosophical Essays, Essay XI, sec. 1: "Ancient scholastick Writers 
indeed were almost universally agreed, that all natural Beings are . . . exactly dis- 
tributed into distinct Species, and that each hath its own indivisible and unchangeable 
Essence: But in our Age we are taught to philosophize with more Caution on this Sub- 
ject; and that great Genius Mr. Loc\e has done much toward teaching us." 



no John Locke and English Literature 

distinct ideas belonging to each member. But, having established a 
species of man by our own invention, we find there is no one to de- 
cide what collection of simple ideas shall be included under this name 
man. If it may be supposed, however, every one will agree that the 
name man must imply a certain spiritual substance, we have then to 
recall that our knowledge of spiritual substance does not extend be- 
yond a few simple ideas of reflection. The further requirement that 
the name man must stand for a material substance increases our per- 
plexity, since we are wholly ignorant of material substance except for 
a few simple ideas of sensation. The name man, which may be called 
a knot to tie up the bundle of ideas belonging to such a being, is 
therefore obscure, first, since the number of ideas to be included in 
this bundle is indeterminable, and vsecondly, because many of the 
ideas composing this bundle imply those obscure substances of which 
we possess no real knowledge. 

For the natural imperfection of the names for complex ideas, illus- 
trated by the word man, Locke felt no temptation to scoff at human 
incapacity. Men must have language for communication, and, since 
there is no way to ascertain what precise collection of ideas shall be 
represented by every specific name, they are obliged to attach differ- 
ent ideas to the same word. In consideration of this fact Locke urged 
that we be charitable in all our criticism, especially "in our interpreta- 
tions or misunderstandings of those ancient writings." 28 So insidious 
is the imperfection of language, it is no wonder 

that the will of God, when clothed in words, should be liable to that doubt 
and uncertainty which unavoidably attends that sort of conveyance, when 
even his Son, whilst clothed in flesh, was subject to all the frailties and 
inconveniences of human nature, sin excepted. 27 

Simply because of the unavoidable faultiness of the language in the 
Bible itself, Locke argued for a natural religion. 

Since then the precepts of Natural Religion are plain, and very intelligible 
to all mankind, and seldom come to be controverted; and other revealed 
truths, which are conveyed to us by books and languages, are liable to the 
common and natural obscurities and difficulties incident to words; me- 
thinks it would become us to be more careful and diligent in observing 

26. Essay, III, ix, 22. 27. Essay, III, ix, 23. 



Of Words hi 

the former, and less magisterial, positive, and imperious, in imposing our 
own sense and interpretations of the latter. 28 

It would be interesting to speculate how far such philological criti- 
cism was responsible for the English deists' rejection of the Bible and 
its revelations, for Paine, we know, used this argument from lan- 
guage in the Age of Reason in his attack upon the Scriptures. 

The continually progressive change to which the meaning of words is 
subject, the want of an universal language which renders translation nec- 
essary, the errors to which translations are again subject, the mistakes of 
copyists and printers, together with the possibility of wilful alteration, 
are of themselves evidences that/ human language, whether in speech or 
in print, cannot be the vehicle of the Word of God. — The Word of God 
exists in something else. 29 ; 

God speaks to each man unambiguously, Paine would have us sup- 
pose, through each man's individual reason. 

The realization that men unavoidably affix different ideas to the 
same word brought unusual responses from numerous sources. Prior 
caustically remarked, "If no Mans Ideas be perfectly the same, Locks < 
Human Understanding may be fit only for the Meditation of Lock | 
himself,'' 30 while Addison saw in the confusion of language the con- 
soling fact that readers, associating their own ideas with words, 
would all receive personal and unique pleasures from the same piece 
of writing. 31 The bewilderments resulting from language provided 
Pope and Bolingbroke, ever prepared to belittle man, further reason 
for ridiculing human perplexity. The philosopher wrote to the poet: 

I persuade myself that you have been more than once ready to laugh or 
cry, in the midst of several rational creatures, who talked of things quite 
different, called them by the same names, and imagined that they talked 
of the same things. The choirs of birds who whisde and sing, or scream at 
one another, or the herds of beasts who bleat and lowe, or chatter and 
roar at one another, have just as much meaning, and communicate it just 
as well. At least I presume so, for I can affirm of no species but my own. 

28. Ibid. 

29. Age of Reason, Part I, cap. 7: Writings, ed. Conway, IV, 38. 

30. "Dialogue between Mr John Lock and Seigneur de Montaigne": Dialogues of 
the Dead and Other Worhjs in Prose and Verse, ed. Waller, p. 246. 

31. Spectator, No. 416. 



ii2 John Locke and English Literature 

All of them seem to have ideas, and these seem often to be better deter- 
mined in the birds and beasts, than in men. 32 

The poet was probably more ready to laugh than weep. 

Wits, just like fools, at war about a name, 
Have full as oft no meaning, or the same. 33 

Locke would have reminded both Bolingbroke and Pope that some 
misunderstanding is inevitable and wholly excusable. 

Though patient with the natural imperfections of language, Locke 
was intolerant of any wilful "abuse of words" that would increase the 
necessary uncertainties of communication. The warning he issued 
against this practice was repeated in the Spectator. 

Mr. Locke, in his "Treatise of Human Understanding," has spent two 
chapters upon the abuse of words. The first and most palpable abuse of 
words, he says, is when they are used without clear and distinct ideas: 
the second, when we are so inconstant and unsteady in the application of 
them that we sometimes use them to signify one idea, sometimes an- 
other. 34 

The very suggestion of the word "abuse" seems to have made a profit- 
able impression on many writers, for we find Pope recommending to 
the authors of Bathos "the study of the abuse of speech," 35 while 
Square exclaimed, when Tom Jones broke his arm, "it was a mere 
abuse of words to call those things evils, in which there was no moral 
unfitness." 36 Moreover men did not neglect Locke's charge that the 
careless or intentional use of words without any clear and distinct 
ideas whatsoever attached to them was the principal abuse of lan- 
guage. Watts, in full agreement with this accusation, said, "Were I 
Master of as many Languages as were spoken at Babel, I should 
make but a poor pretence to true Learning or Knowledge, if I had 
not clear and distinct Ideas, and useful Notions in my Head under the 
Words which my Tongue could pronounce." 37 The pages of Tom 

32. Bolingbroke, Wor\s, III, 422. 33. Pope, Essay on Man, II, 85-6. 

34. Spectator, No. 373. 

35. Martinus Scriblerus: Wor\s, ed. Elwin and Courthope, X, (374). 

36. Fielding, Tom Jones, bk. V, cap. 2: Wor\s, ed. Browne, VI, 226. It should not 
be concealed that Fielding, in this instance, is deriving Locke through Shaftesbury. 

37. Improvement of the Mind, Part I, cap. 7: ed. 1741, p. 117. 



Of Words 113 

Jones would, however, have been less amusing if such scrupulosity 
had prevented Mrs. Waters from exclaiming, when her bedroom was 
invaded, 

murder! robbery, and more frequendy rape! which last, some, perhaps, 
may wonder she should mention, who do not consider that these words 
of exclamation are used by ladies in a fright, as fa, la, la, ra, da, &c. are in 
music, only as the vehicles of sound, and without any fixed ideas. 38 

Corporal Trim's fondness for language per se betrayed him so regu- 
larly into this abuse of speech, that Mr. Shandy might safely say on 
any occasion, " — I will enter into obligations this moment ... to 
lay out all my aunt Dinah's legacy in charitable uses . . ., if the 
corporal has any one determinate idea annexed to any one word he 
has repeated," 39 While both Sterne and Fielding played with this 
phase of the abuse of language, the latter gave it serious attention in 
the fourth number of the Covent-Garden Journal, which begins: 

"One may observe," says Mr. Locke, "in all Languages, certain Words, 
that, if they be examined, will be found, in their first Original, and their 
appropriated Use, not to stand for any clear and distinct Ideas." Mr. Locke 
gives us the Instances "of Wisdom, Glory, Grace. Words which are fre- 
quent enough (says he) in everyMaiTs Mouth; but if a great many of 
those who use them, should be asked what they mean by them, they would 
be at a Stand, and not know what to answer: A plain Proof, that tho' they 
have learned those Sounds, and have them ready at their Tongue's End; 
yet there are no determin'd Ideas laid up in their Minds, which are to be 
expressed to others by them." 

In passing let it be remarked that to the long list of words in the hu- 
man vocabulary to which one can attach no definite idea Tom Paine 
would add in democratic fashion the meaningless titles of duke and 
count. 40 But to continue with Fielding's criticism of Locke, 

Besides the several Causes by him assigned of the Abuse of Words, there 
is one, which, tho' the great Philosopher hath omitted it, seems to have 
contributed not a little to the Introduction of this enormous Evil. This 
is That Privilege which Divines and moral Writers have assumed to them- 

38. Fielding, Tom Jones, bk. X, cap. 2: Works, ed. Browne, VII, 7. 

39. Sterne, Tristram Shandy, bk. V, cap. 32: ed. Cross, p. 317. 

40. Rights of Man, Part I: Writings, ed. Conway, II, 320. 



114 John Locke and English Literature 

selves of doing Violence to certain Words, in Favour of their own Hy- 
potheses, and of using them in a Sense often directly contrary to that 
which Custom (the absolute Lord and Master, according to Horace, of 
all the Modes of Speech) hath allotted them. 

Although Locke may have omitted special reference to the failings 
of divines and moralists, they would perhaps be welcomed to the 
class of those "disputing and wrangling philosophers," 41 who have 
"added much to the natural imperfection of languages" 42 by their 
affected obscurity in the use of words. 

This is unavoidably to be so, where men's parts and learning are estimated 
by their skill in disputing. And if reputation and reward shall attend these 
conquests, which depend mosdy on the fineness and niceties of words, it 
is no wonder if the wit of man so employed, should perplex, involve, and 
subtilize the signification of sounds, so as never to want something to say 
in opposing or defending any question; the victory being adjudged not to 
him who had truth on his side, but the last word in the dispute. 43 

Among the seven abuses of speech which Locke lists, probably re- 
calling in his numeration the deadly sins, is rhetoric. 

It is evident how much men love to deceive and be deceived, since rhetoric, 
that powerful instrument of error and deceit, has its established professors, 
is publicly taught, and has always been had in great reputation: and I 
doubt not but it will be thought great boldness, if not brutality, in me to 
have said thus much against it. Eloquence, like the fair sex, has too pre- 
vailing beauties in it to suffer itself ever to be spoken against. And it is in 
vain to find fault with those arts of deceiving, wherein men find pleasure 
to be deceived. 44 

But those who followed Locke in the condemnation of rhetoric's 
abuse of speech were not so numerous as might be wished, which is 
perhaps not surprising when one remembers that even Bacon had 
been so misguided in his estimate of eloquence that he compared it to 
wisdom itself. 45 Sterne revealed some slight disaffection for the art 
as mastered by Mr. Shandy, of whom he said, "Persuasion hung upon 

41. Essay, III, x, 8. 42. Essay, III, x, 6. 

43. Essay, III, x, 7. 44. Essay, III, x, 34. 

45. Of the Dignity and Advancement of Learning: Philosophical Works, ed. Rob- 
ertson, pp. 534-5- 



Of Words 115 

his lips, and the elements of Logic and Rhetoric were so blended up 
in him, — and, withal, he had so shrewd a guess at the weaknesses 
and passions of his respondent, — that Nature might have stood up 
and said, — 'This man is eloquent.'" 46 Allusions deriding oratory, 
which should have flourished in the sunshine of Locke's influence, 
are however so few that it was an unusual surprise to discover in 
Smollett's writings the following completely Lockian passage. 

Our orator was well acquainted with all the legerdemain of his own lan- 
guage, as well as with the nature of the beast he had to rule. He knew 
when to distract its weak brain with a tumult of incongruous and contra- 
dictory ideas: he knew when to overwhelm its feeble faculty of thinking, 
by pouring in a torrent of words without any ideas annexed. These throng 
in like city-milliners to a Mile-end assembly, while it happens to be under 
the direction of a conductor without strength and authority. Those that 
have ideas annexed may be compared to the females provided with part- 
ners, which, though they may croud the place, do not absolutely destroy 
all regulation and decorum. But those that are uncoupled, press in pro- 
miscuously with such impetuosity and in such numbers, that the puny 
master of the ceremonies is unable to withstand the irruption; far less, to 
distinguish their quality, or accommodate them with partners: thus they 
fall into the dance without order, and immediately anarchy ensues. 47 

Paine thought the great apologist for monarchy just such an orator. 

Mr. Burke has two or three times, in his parliamentary speeches, and in 
his publications, made use of a jingle of words that convey no ideas. 
Speaking of government, he says, "It is better to have monarchy for its 
basis, and republicanism for its corrective, than republicanism for its basis, 
and monarchy for its corrective." 48 

To offset the natural imperfection of words and correct the wilful 
abuse of speech, Locke offered only a few suggestions, for he did not 
nourish the vain hope of a general reformation of the language of 
England or of the world. 49 

46. Tristram Shandy, bk. I, cap. 19: ed. Cross, p. 40. 

47. Adventures of an Atom: Adventures of Sir Launcelot Greaves Together with 
The History & Adventures of an Atom, Oxford, 1926, pp. 381—2. 

48. Rights of Man, Part II, cap. 3: Writings, ed. Conway, II, 425. 

49. Essay, III, xi, 2. 



n6 John Locke and English Literature 

But though the market and exchange must be left to their own ways of 
talking, and gossipings not be robbed of their ancient privilege: though 
the schools, and men of argument would perhaps take it amiss to have 
anything offered, to abate the length or lessen the number of their dis- 
putes; yet methinks those who pretend seriously to search after or main- 
tain truth, should think themselves obliged to study how they might 
deliver themselves without obscurity, doubtfulness, or equivocation, to 
which men's words are naturally liable, if care be not taken. 50 

The main remedy prescribed is an extraordinary type of definition. 
For the names of simple ideas synonyms may be used, but the best 
method of explaining to anyone the meaning of a word signifying a 
simple idea is "by presenting to his senses that subject which may 
produce it in his mind, and make him actually have the idea that 
word stands for," 51 Names for immaterial complex ideas, especially 
moral ideas, may be defined by listing the simple ideas they include, 52 
which Johnson did in his Dictionary with an acuteness of intellect 
and a precision of language which were sufficient in themselves to 
convince Boswell of his genius. 53 But speaking now of names for 
complex ideas that represent substances, there should be, Locke be- 
lieved, a dictionary wherein "words standing for things which are 
known and distinguished by their outward shapes should be ex- 
pressed by little draughts and prints made of them." 54 Nothing is 
more indicative of the high premium Locke's sensational philosophy 
placed upon the material world than this desire for a dictionary with 
"little draughts and prints." 

Locke's insistence upon definition, it is to be feared, enlisted the 
genial rather than serious sympathy of literature. The Scriblerus 
Club, in its pleasant, bantering manner, records that Crambe 

found fault with the advertisements, that they were not strict logical 
definitions: in an advertisement of a dog stolen or strayed, he said it ought 
to begin thus, An irrational animal of the genus caninum, Sec. 55 

In a very light vein Swift wrote to Thomas Sheridan, "I begin with 

50. Essay, III, xi, 3. 51. Essay, III, xi, 14. 

52. Essay, III, xi, 15. 

53. Boswell, Life of Johnson, ed. Hill and Powell, I, 293. 

54. Essay, III, xi, 25. 

55. Martinus Scriblerus: Pope, Worhjs, ed. Elwin and Courthope, X, 310. 



Of Words 117 

lady; and because the judicious Mr. Locke says it is necessary to settle 
terms, before we write upon any subject, I describe a certain female 
of your acquaintance, whose name shall be Dorothy." 56 Definition 
inspired this little scene in Tom Jones: Thwackum asked, "Can any 
honour exist independent of religion ? . . . To this Square answered, 
that it was impossible to discourse philosophically concerning words, 
till their meaning was first established." 57 Sterne, who is the best 
source for illustrations of Locke, introduced his account of Uncle 
Toby's love affair with the statement: 

All I contend for is, that I am not obliged to set out with a definition of 
what love is; and so long as I can go on with my story intelligibly, with 
the help of the word itself, without any other idea to it, than what I have 
in common with the rest of the world, why should I differ from it a mo- 
ment before the time? — When I can get on no further, — and find myself 
entangled on all sides of this mystic labyrinth, — my Opinion will then 
come in, in course, — and lead me out. 58 

On another occasion, however, Sterne did not shy at definition, choos- 
ing instead to be philologically exact. 

Now before I venture to make use of the word Nose a second time— to 
avoid all confusion in what will be said upon it, in this interesting part 
of my story, it may not be amiss to explain my own meaning, and define, 
with all possible exactness and precision, what I would willingly be un- 
derstood to mean by the term: being of opinion, that 'tis owing to the 
negligence and perverseness of writers in despising this precaution, and to 
nothing else — that all the polemical writings in divinity are not as clear 
and demonstrative as those upon a Will o' the Wisp, or any other sound 
part of philosophy, and natural pursuit; in order to which, what have 
you to do, before you set out, unless you intend to go puzzling on to the 
day of judgment — but to give the world a good definition, and stand to 
it, of the main word you have most occasion for — changing it, Sir, as you 
would a guinea, into small coin? — which done— let the father of con- 
fusion puzzle you, if he can; or put a different idea either into your head, 
or your reader's head, if he knows how. 59 

56. Correspondence of Jonathan Swijt, ed. Ball, V, 241. 

57. Fielding, Tom Jones, bk. Ill, cap. 3: Wor\s, ed. Browne, VI, 124. 

58. Tristram Shandy, bk. VI, cap. 37: ed. Cross, p. 378. 

59. Ibid., bk. Ill, cap. 31: ed. Cross, pp. 173-4. 



; 



n8 John Locke and English Literature 

The tragic outcome of Sterne's determination to define at this par- 
ticular juncture in the story, to turn a guinea into small coin or list 
the simple ideas represented by the name of a complex idea, leads one 
to question, if not the necessity, at least the propriety of following 
Locke's philosophy of words to the very letter. 



BOOK IV 

Of Knowledge and Probability 

THE first three books of the Essay concerning Human Under- 
standing, which explain the origin of ideas and their relation 
to words, are but a preparation for the conclusions concerning 
the extent of human knowledge to be found in the fourth and final 
book. All knowledge, Locke says, is "but the perception of the con- 
nexion of and agreement, or disagreement and repugnancy of any of 
our ideas. " x This statement, though simple, is so inclusive that we shall 
accept it as true only after long consideration. A knowledge of the 
agreement or disagreement of ideas may be had intuitively, or di- 
recdy, by placing two ideas together simply by themselves and ob- 
serving at once that they are the same or different. 

Thus the mind perceives that white is not blac\, that a circle is not a tri- 
angle, that three are more than two and equal to one and two. Such kinds 
of truths the mind perceives at the first sight of the ideas together, by bare 
intuition; without the intervention of any other idea: and this kind of 
knowledge is the clearest and most certain that human frailty is capable 
of. This part of knowledge is irresistible, and, like bright sunshine, forces 
itself immediately to be perceived, as soon as ever the mind turns its view 
that way; and leaves no room for hesitation, doubt, or examination, but 
the mind is presendy filled with the clear light of it. 2 

In most cases, however, we are not blessed with this intuitive knowl- 
edge which tells us directly and immediately that two ideas agree or 
disagree, and to understand the relation of these ideas we are obliged 
to resort to demonstration. Demonstrative knowledge is attained by 
the process of reason, which is nothing more than placing an extra 
idea, or series of ideas, between the two ideas whose relation we 
would determine. 3 Sterne's remarks, often more clear than philoso- 
phy in its purer form, are very helpful in explaining this demonstra- 
tive knowledge provided by reason. Reason, or in his words, 

i. Essay, IV, i, 2. 2. Essay, IV, ii, 1. 

3. Essay, IV, ii, 2. 



120 John Locke and English Literature 

— the great and principal act of ratiocination in man, as logicians tell us, 
is the finding out the agreement or disagreement of two ideas one with an- 
other, by the intervention of a third (called the medius terminus); just as 
a man, as Locke well observes, by a yard, finds two men's ninepin-alleys 
to be of the same length, which could not be brought together, to measure 
their equality, by juxtaposition. 4 

Through Sterne Locke's philosophy appears much gayer than it is, 
for in this instance the Essay's sober example had been : "A man, by a 
yard, finds two houses to be of the same length, which could not be 
brought together to measure their equality by juxta-position." 5 Since 
Tristram Shandy was written with careful attention to Locke's 
theory of the association of ideas, Sterne changed "house" to "ninepin- 
alley" in order to set Uncle Toby thinking of the bowling-green. 

Having this concise definition of knowledge as the intuitive or 
demonstrative perception of the agreement or disagreement of ideas, 
it is necessary to consider some of the factors which prevent a clear 
understanding of the true relation of ideas. Love of pleasure and 
mental laziness, ancient foes of knowledge, were not overlooked in 
the Essay. 

Their hot pursuit of pleasure, or constant drudgery in business, engages 
some men's thoughts elsewhere: laziness and oscitancy in general, or a 
particular aversion for books, study, and meditation, keep others from any 
serious thoughts at all; and some out of fear that an impartial inquiry 
would not favour those opinions which best suit their prejudices, lives, 
and designs, content themselves, without examination, to take upon trust 
what they find convenient and in fashion. 6 

Submission to authority, the acceptance of opinions without examina- 
tion and proofs were as much the evils of Locke's age as of any other. 7 
Many men will hold to their favourite hypotheses long after they 
have been discovered false. 

Would it not be an insufferable thing for a learned professor, and that 
which his scarlet would blush at, to have his authority of forty years 
standing, wrought out of hard rock, Greek and Latin, with no small ex- 
pense of time and candle, and confirmed by general tradition and a rev- 

4. Tristram Shandy, bk. Ill, cap. 40: ed. Cross, pp. 187-8. 

5. Essay, IV, xvii, 18. 6. Essay, IV, xx, 6. 7. Essay, IV, xx, 2. 



Of Knowledge and Probability 121 

erend beard, in an instant overturned by an upstart novelist? Can any one 
expect that he should be made to confess, that what he taught his scholars 
thirty years ago was all error and mistake; and that he sold them hard 
words and ignorance at a very dear rate. 8 

One cannot blame the professor for clinging to his outworn theories 
and refusing to see the actual agreement of ideas. In other instances 
knowledge is defeated by ruling passions which blind men to the 
reality of things. 

Probabilities which cross men's appetites and prevailing passions run the 
same fate. Let ever so much probability hang on one side of a covetous 
man's reasoning, and money on the other; it is easy to foresee which will 
outweigh. Earthly minds, like mud walls, resist the strongest batteries: 
and though, perhaps, sometimes the force of a clear argument may make 
some impression, yet they nevertheless stand firm, and keep out the 
enemy, truth, that would captivate or disturb them. Tell a man passion- 
ately in love, that he is jilted; bring a score of witnesses of the falsehood 
of his mistress, it is ten to one but three kind words of hers shall invalidate 
all their testimonies. 9 

No man scorned in love is eager to see the actual disagreement and 
repugnancy of ideas. These several wilful refusals to observe the true 
relationship of ideas might be called the abuse of knowledge as a 
parallel to the abuse of words. 

Yet such occasional impediments to truth are insignificant when 
compared with the chief obstacle preventing the perception of the 
agreement or disagreement of ideas, which is the irreparable weak- 
ness and incapacity of the human mind. The causes of our obscure 
knowledge of ideas, Locke said, 

seem to be either dull organs; or very slight and transient impressions 
made by the objects; or else a weakness in the memory, not able to retain 
them as received. For to return again to visible objects, to help us to appre- 
hend this matter. If the organs, or faculties of perception, like wax over- 
hardened with cold, will not receive the impression of the seal, from the 
usual impulse wont to imprint it; or, like wax of a temper too soft, will 
not hold it well, when well imprinted; or else supposing the wax of a 
temper fit, but the seal not applied with a sufficient force to make a clear 
impression: in any of these cases, the print left by the seal will be obscure. 10 

8. Essay, IV, xx, n. 9. Essay, IV, xx, 12. 10. Essay, II, xxix, 3. 



122 John Locke and English Literature 

If Locke's condensed account of the causes of obscurity is itself not 
clear, we may be enlightened by Sterne's dramatization of this illus- 
tration. 

Now if you will venture to go along with me, and look down into the 
bottom of this matter, it will be found that the cause of obscurity and con- 
fusion, in the mind of a man, is threefold. 

Dull organs, dear Sir, in the first place. Secondly, slight and transient 
impressions made by the objects, when the said organs are not dull. And 
thirdly, a memory like unto a sieve, not able to retain what it has received. 
— Call down Dolly your chamber-maid, and I will give you my cap and 
bell along with it, if I make not this matter so plain that Dolly herself 
should understand it as well as Malebranch. — When Dolly has indited 
her episde to Robin, and has thrust her arm into the bottom of her pocket 
hanging by her right side; — take that opportunity to recollect that the 
organs and faculties of perception can, by nothing in this world be so 
apdy typified and explained as by that one thing which Dolly's hand is in 
search of. — Your organs are not so dull that I should inform you — 'tis an 
inch, Sir, of red seal-wax. 

When this is melted and dropped upon the letter, if Dolly fumbles too 
long for her thimble, till the wax is over hardened, it will not receive the 
mark of her thimble from the usual impulse which was wont to imprint 
it. Very well. If Dolly's wax, for want of better, is bees-wax, or of a tem- 
per too soft, — tho' it may receive, — it will not hold the impression, how 
hard soever Dolly thrusts against it; and last of all, supposing the wax 
good, and eke the thimble, but applied thereto in careless haste, as her 
Mistress rings the bell; — in any one of these three cases the print left by 
the thimble will be as unlike the prototype as a brass-jack. 11 

Dull organs and a memory like unto a sieve only partially describe 
the imperfections of the mind of man, who, according to Locke, "in 
all probability is one of the lowest of all intellectual beings." 12 Boling- 
broke, omitting the probability, frankly stated that all error begins 
"in the high opinion we are apt to entertain of the human mind, tho it 
holds, in truth, a very low rank in the intellectual system." 13 

As evidence of the inferiority of man's mental endowments we may 
recall Locke's earlier statements that the mind cannot always be 
thinking, and that the difference between the understanding of the 

ii. Tristram Shandy, bk. II, cap. 2: cd. Cross, p. 66. 

12. Essay, IV, iii, 23. 13. Wor\s, III, 328. 



Of Knowledge and Probability 123 

human and the brute is not so considerable as some have supposed. 
With these assertions may be grouped the facts that "our finite under- 
standings" are "able to think clearly and distinctly but on one thing 
at once," 14 and further that it is impossible for a man to keep "one 
self-same single idea a long time alone in his mind," 15 an observation 
which will appear particularly cynical when applied to grief and all 
our nobler ideas. Man's powers of perception, furthermore, are so 
peculiarly mean and average that he is unable to see anything mov- 
ing as rapidly as a cannon-ball, 16 or as slowly as the hands of the 
ordinary clock. 17 

Our limitations of perception are not greater than those of the 
memory, which, Bolingbroke asserted, "is proportioned to our im- 
perfect nature, and therefore weak, slow, and uncertain in it's opera- 
tions." 18 The thought of the failings of the memory had stirred in 
Locke an emotion not frequently to be met with in the Essay. 

The memory of some men, it is true, is very tenacious, even to a miracle. 
But yet there seems to be a constant decay of all our ideas, even of those 
which are struck deepest, and in minds the most retentive; so that if they 
be not sometimes renewed, by repeated exercise of the senses, or reflection 
on those kinds of objects which at first occasioned them, the print wears 
out, and at last there remains nothing to be seen. Thus the ideas, as well 
as children, of our youth, often die before us: and our minds represent 
to us those tombs to which we are approaching; where, though the brass 
and marble remain, yet the inscriptions are effaced by time, and the im- 
agery moulders away. 19 

Locke thinks then of Pascal, "that prodigy of parts," who, "till the 
decay of his health had impaired his memory, . . . forgot nothing 
of what he had done, read, or thought, in any part of his rational 
age." 20 And yet Pascal, being human, was limited in this faculty, and 
could not rival angels, some of whom may be "endowed with capaci- 
ties able to retain together, and constandy set before them, as in one 
picture, all their past knowledge at once." 21 On another occasion 
Locke has described the decay of the memory in realistic, Swiftean 
words. 

14. Essay, IV, i, 8. 15. Essay, II, xiv, 13. 

16. Essay, II, xiv, 10. 17. Essay, II, xiv, 11. 

18. Wor\s, III, 368. 19. Essay, II, x, 5. 

20. Essay, II, x, 9. 21. Ibid. 



/^s 



124 John Locke and English Literature 

Take one in whom decrepit old age has blotted out the memory of his 
past knowledge, and clearly wiped out the ideas his mind was formerly 
stored with, and has, by destroying his sight, hearing, and smell quite, 
and his taste to a great degree, stopped up almost all the passages for new 
ones to enter; or if there be some of the inlets yet half open, the impres- 
sions made are scarcely perceived, or not at all retained. How far such an 
one (notwithstanding all that is boasted of innate principles) is in his 
knowledge and intellectual faculties above the condition of a cockle or 
an oyster, I leave to be considered. And if a man had passed sixty years in 
such a state, as it is possible he might, as well as three days, I wonder 
what difference there would be, in any intellectual perfections, between 
him and the lowest degree of animals. 22 

Swift may well have had this distressing passage in mind when he 
composed his repulsive description of the immortal struldbrugs. 

At ninety they lose their teeth and hair, they have at that age no distinc- 
tion of taste, but eat and drink whatever they can get, without relish or 
appetite. The diseases they were subject to still continue without increas- 
ing or diminishing. In talking they forget the common appellation of 
things, and the names of persons, even of those who are their nearest 
friends and relations. For the same reason, they never can amuse them- 
selves with reading, because their memory will not serve to carry them 
from the beginning of a sentence to the end; and by this defect they are 
deprived of the only entertainment whereof they might otherwise be 
capable. 28 

Swift's account bears Locke out, that those who have "passed sixty 
years" almost without memory and perception as have the undying 
struldbrugs, are little different from "the lowest degree of animals." 
When such defects are apparent in the mind, it is but a short way 
to the suggestion that this imperfect thinking power in man is not 
spiritual but material. The possibility that matter may think, a sup- 
position Bacon did not consider, 24 is stated by Locke in a single para- 
graph, 25 which aroused more criticism than any other section of the 

22. Essay, II, ix, 14. 

23. Gulliver's Travels: Prose Works, ed. Temple Scott, VIII, 222. 

24. Of the Dignity and Advancement of Learning: Philosophical Wor\s, ed. Rob- 
ertson, p. 480. 

25. Essay, IV, iii, 6. 



Of Knowledge and Probability 125 

Essay. 2 * Founding his argument securely upon God's unlimited 
power, he maintained it is 

not much more remote from our comprehension to conceive that God 
can, if he pleases, superadd to matter a faculty of thinking, than that he 
should superadd to it another substance with a faculty of thinking; since 
we know not wherein thinking consists, nor to what sort of substances the 
Almighty has been pleased to give that power, which cannot be in any 
created being, but merely by the good pleasure and bounty of the Crea- 
tor. 27 

Though we possess no certain knowledge concerning the composition 
of the mind, or soul, in any case, 

All the great ends of morality and religion are well enough secured, with- 
out philosophical proofs of the soul's immateriality; since it is evident, 
that he who made us at the beginning to subsist here, sensible intelligent 
beings, and for several years continued us in such a state, can and will 
restore us to the like state of sensibility in another world, and make us 
capable there to receive the retribution he has designed to men, according 
to their doings in this life. 28 

The problem of the nature of the soul engaged and disturbed 
Eighteenth-Century thought more seriously than is suggested by 
Sterne's light treatment of the subject. 

God's power is infinite, cried the Nosarians, he can do any thing. 

He can do nothing, replied the Antinosarians, which implies contra- 
dictions. 

He can make matter think, said the Nosarians. 

As certainly as you can make a velvet cap out of a sow's ear, replied the 
Antinosarians. 29 

In actual life the chief of the Nosarians was perhaps Lord Boling- 
broke, who repeated Locke's statement that matter may think, 30 and 
asserted in his own words that "the faculty of thinking, in all the 
modes of thought, may have been superadded by omnipotence to 

26. Essay, ed. Fraser, II, 198, n. 3. See Voltaire, Letters concerning the English Na- 
tion, pp. 100-04. Letter 13. 

27. Essay, IV, iii, 6. 28. Ibid. 

29. Tristram Shandy, bk. IV, "Slawkenbergius's Tale": ed. Cross, p. 209. 

30. Works, HI, 513. 



126 John Locke and English Literature 

certain systems of matter." 31 To keep in line with Locke he further 
observed that the immateriality of the soul is not essential for im- 
mortality. 32 The Antinosarians, as Sterne would have us call those 
who would not countenance the notion that matter may think, in- 
cluded the group we should expect, beginning with Addison, who, 
in a discourse on the soul, argued for its immortality, 

First, from the nature of the soul itself, and particularly its immateriality; 
which, though not absolutely necessary to the eternity of its duration, has, 
I think, been evinced to almost a demonstration. 33 

As Isaac Watts quite naturally rejected this "dangerous" opinion that 
matter and mind are one, 34 so did Edward Young, the gloomy opti- 
mist of the Night Thoughts, contend for the spiritual quality of the 
soul. 

Her ceaseless flight, tho' devious, speaks her nature 

Of subder essence than the trodden clod. 35 

The most elaborate attack upon this heretical doctrine was launched 
in the Anti-Lucretius of Cardinal de Polignac. The couplet in Book 
Three of this philosophical epic, 

How widely different Matter is from Mind, 
Explain'd at large hereafter shalt thou find, 36 

points to the entire fifth book, of which the following lines are a 
representative summary: 

From all the different forms it may receive, 

Behold the whole that Matter can atchieve. 

I see it's bulk and figure often chang'd, 

I see it's parts in various order rang'd; 

But through all change, of figure, station, size, 

I see no Mind, nor Mind's Effect arise. 37 

This position was taken by Imlac when the much disputed question 
of the nature of the soul was introduced in Rasselas at the visit to the 
Egyptian tombs, that "scene of mortality." 

31. Works, HI, 364. 32. Ibid., Ill, 535. 

33. Spectator, No. in. 34. Philosophical Essays, Essay II, sec. 3. 

35. Night Thoughts, I, 99-100. 36. Anti-Lucretius, p. 210. 

37. Ibid., p. 371. 



Of Knowledge and Probability 127 

"Some, answered Imlac, have indeed said that the soul is material, but 
I can scarcely believe that any man has thought it, who knew how to 
think; for all the conclusions of reason enforce the immateriality of mind, 
and all the notices of sense and investigations of science concur to prove 
the unconsciousness of matter. 

"It was never supposed that cogitation is inherent in matter, or that 
every particle is a thinking being. Yet, if any part of matter be devoid of 
thought, what part can we suppose to think? Matter can differ from 
matter only in form, density, bulk, motion, and direction of motion: to 
which of these, however varied or combined, can consciousness be an- 
nexed? To be round or square, to be solid or fluid, to be great or little, to 
be moved slowly or swifdy one way or another, are modes of material 
existence, all equally alien from the nature of cogitation. If matter be once 
without thought, it can only be made to think by some new modification, 
but all the modifications which it can admit are equally unconnected with 
cogitative powers." 

"But the materialists, said the astronomer, urge that matter may have 
qualities with which we are unacquainted." 

"He who will determine, returned Imlac, against that which he knows, 
because there may be something which he knows not; he that can set 
hypothetical possibility against acknowledged certainty, is not to be ad- 
mitted among reasonable beings. All that we know of matter is, that 
matter is inert, senseless and lifeless; and if this conviction cannot be op- 
posed but by referring us to something that we know not, we have all the 
evidence that human intellect can admit. If that which is known may be 
over-ruled by that which is unknown, no being, not omniscient, can arrive 
at certainty." 

"Yet let us not, said the astronomer, too arrogandy limit the Creator's 
power." 

"It is no limitation of omnipotence, replied the poet, to suppose that one 
thing is not consistent with another, that the same proposition cannot be 
at once true and false, that the same number cannot be even and odd, 
that cogitation cannot be conferred on that which is created incapable of 
cogitation." 

"I know not, said Nekayah, any great use of this question. Does that 
immateriality, which, in my opinion, you have sufficiently proved, neces- 
sarily include eternal duration?" 

"Of immateriality, said Imlac, our ideas are negative, and therefore 
obscure. Immateriality seems to imply a natural power of perpetual dura- 
tion as a consequence of exemption from all causes of decay: whatever 
perishes, is destroyed by the solution of its contexture, and separation of its 



128 John Locke and English Literature 

parts; nor can we conceive how that which has no parts, and therefore 
admits no solution, can be naturally corrupted or impaired." 

"I know not, said Rasselas, how to conceive any thing without exten- 
sion: what is extended must have parts, and you allow, that whatever has 
parts may be destroyed." 

"Consider your own conceptions, replied Imlac, and the difficulty will 
be less. You will find substance without extension. An ideal form is no 
less real than material bulk: yet an ideal form has no extension. It is no 
less certain, when you think on a pyramid, that your mind possesses the 
idea of a pyramid, than that the pyramid itself is standing. What space 
does the idea of a pyramid occupy more than the idea of a grain of corn? 
or how can either idea suffer laceration? As is the effect such is the cause; 
as thought is, such is the power that thinks; a power impassive and in- 
discerptible." 

"But the Being, said Nekayah, whom I fear to name, the Being which 
made the soul, can destroy it." 

"He, surely, can destroy it, answered Imlac, since, however unperish- 
able, it receives from a superiour nature its power of duration. That it 
will not perish by any inherent cause of decay, or principle of corruption, 
may be shown by philosophy; but philosophy can tell no more. That it 
will not be annihilated by him that made it, we must humbly learn from 
higher authority." 

The whole assembly stood a while silent and collected. "Let us return, 
said Rasselas, from this scene of mortality." 38 

A mind so imperfect in its form and operation as Locke conceived 
it to be, would seem sufficiently handicapped in the perception of 
the agreement and disagreement of ideas required for knowledge 
without the additional supposition that all minds are tainted with a 
"sort of madness," resulting from the association of ideas. In his 
treatise on Human Nature (1650), Hobbes had mentioned the con- 
nection of ideas to account for the interrelationships of thought, say- 
ing, "The cause of the coherence or consequence of one conception 
to another, is their first coherence or consequence at that time when 
they are produced by Sense." 39 This simple sequence of ideas was 
followed by Dryden in the Preface to the Fables (1700). 

In the mean time, to follow the thrid of my discourse, (as thoughts, ac- 

38. Johnson, Rasselas, cap. 47: ed. Chapman, pp. 214-18. 

39. Human Nature, cap. 4, sec. 2. 



Of Knowledge and Probability 129 

cording to Mr. Hobbes, have always some connection,) so from Chaucer 
I was led to think on Boccace, who was not only his contemporary, but 
also pursued the same studies. 40 

Watts, coming after Locke, saw in the mind's power to associate its 
ideas a great instrument for improving knowledge. 

When you would remember new Things or Words, endeavour to asso- 
ciate and connect them with some Words or Things which you have well 
\nown before, and which are fixed and established in your Memory. This 
Association of Ideas is of great Importance and Force, and may be of ex- 
cellent Use in many Instances of Human Life. 41 

Locke's theory of the association of ideas differs from all others be- 
cause he completely disregarded the possible advantages of this fac- 
ulty of the understanding and wrongly named it a very disease of 
the mind, "the foundation of the greatest, I had almost said of all the 
errors in the world." 42 If we recall that knowledge is the accurate 
perception of the true agreement or disagreement of ideas, we easily 
understand that only confusion can result from an agreement estab- 
lished in our minds between ideas which have no "natural corre- 
spondence and connexion one with another." 43 

Ideas that in themselves are not all of kin, come to be so united in some 
men's minds, that it is very hard to separate them; they always keep in 
company, and the one no sooner at any time comes into the understand- 
ing, but its associate appears with it; and if they are more than two which 
are thus united, the whole gang, always inseparable, show themselves to- 
gether. 44 

Akenside has followed Locke in describing this action of the mind. 

40. Poetical Wor\s, Cambridge Edition, p. 741. 

41. Improvement of the Mind, Part I, cap. 17: ed. 1741, p. 273. Cf. Bacon, "Men 
help the memory by putting images of persons in places" (Philosophical Works, ed. 
Robertson, p. 507). Cf. John Mason, Self-Knowledge (1745), I, xv, 5: "Join to the 
idea you would remember some other that is more familiar to you, which bears some 
similitude to it, either in its nature, or in the sound of the word by which it is ex- 
pressed; or that hath some relation to it either in time or place. And then by recalling 
this, which is easily remembered, you will (by that concatenation, or connection of 
ideas, which Mr. Locke takes notice of) draw in that which is thus linked or joined 
with it; which otherwise you might hunt after in vain." 

42. Essay, II, xxxiii, 18. 43. Essay, II, xxxiii, 5. 
44. Ibid. 



130 John Locke and English Literature 

For when the diff 'rent images of things 

By chance combin'd, have struck th' attentive soul 

With deeper impulse, or connected long, 

Have drawn her frequent eye; howe'er distinct 

Th' external scenes, yet oft th' ideas gain 

From that conjunction an eternal tie, 

And sympathy unbroken. Let the mind 

Recall one partner of the various league, 

Immediate, lo! the firm confed'rates rise. 45 

Ideas thus erroneously associated in the mind by chance are kept in 
this union by the force of habit. 

Custom setdes habits of thinking in the understanding, as well as of de- 
termining in the will, and of motions in the body: all which seems to be 
but trains of motions in the animal spirits, which, once set a going, con- 
tinue in the same steps they have been used to; which, by often treading, 
are worn into a smooth path, and the motion in it becomes easy, and as it 
were natural. 48 

The association of ideas, this offspring of chance and custom, ac- 
counts for the unreasonable connection in some minds of the ideas 
of darkness and goblins. 

The ideas of goblins and sprites have really no more to do with darkness 
than light: yet let but a foolish maid inculcate these often on the mind of 
a child, and raise them there together, possibly he shall never be able to 
separate them again so long as he lives, but darkness shall ever afterwards 
bring with it those frightful ideas, and they shall be so joined, that he 
can no more bear the one than the other. 47 

Locke made this observation in hope that "those who have children, 
or the charge of their education, would think it worth their while 
diligently to watch, and carefully to prevent the undue connexion of 
ideas in the minds of young people." 48 In the interest of children's 
mental health, his sage remarks were repeated by Addison in a paper 
on the ghosts which were supposed to haunt the estate of Sir Roger. 49 

45. Pleasures of Imagination, III, 312-20. 46. Essay, II, xxxiii, 6. 

47. Essay, II, xxxiii, 10. Cf. Bacon, "Men fear death, as children fear to go in the 
dark; and as that natural fear in children is increased with tales, so is the other" ("Of 
Death": Essays, No. 2). 

48. Essay, II, xxxiii, 8. 49. Spectator, No. no. 



Of Knowledge and Probability 131 

That most of our absurd fears and needless mental agonies can be 
attributed to the mind's pathological tendency to associate incon- 
gruous ideas, is illustrated by a little incident recorded in the Essay. 

A friend of mine knew one perfectly cured of madness by a very harsh 
and offensive operation. The gentleman who was thus recovered, with 
great sense of gratitude and acknowledgment owned the cure all his life 
after, as the greatest obligation he could have received; but, whatever 
gratitude and reason suggested to him, he could never bear the sight of 
the operator: that image brought back with it the idea of that agony 
which he suffered from his hands, which was too mighty and intolerable 
for him to endure. 50 

Hardly less real and terrible associations are formed, Shenstone tells 
us, in the mind of a child between the birch tree and the rod. 

And all in sight does rise a Birchen Tree, 
Which Learning near her litde Dome did stow, 
Whilom a Twig of small Regard to see, 
Tho' now so wide its waving Branches flow; 
And work the simple Vassals mickle Woe: 
For not a Wind might curl the Leaves, that blew, 
But their Limbs shudder'd, and their Pulse beat low; 
And as they look'd, they found their Horror grew, 
And shap'd it into Rods, and tingled at the View. 51 

To this stanza of the School-Mistress, the author has added in the 
Index the following note: "A Circumstance in the Situation of the 
Mansion of early Discipline, discovering the surprizing Influence of 
the Connection of Ideas." 52 

Very humourous, as well as serious, happenings result from an 
irrational association of ideas engraven by habit upon the mind. "If 
I add one more," Locke said in citing such instances, "it is only for 
the pleasant oddness of it." 

It is of a young gentleman, who, having learnt to dance, and that to great 
perfection, there happened to stand an old trunk in the room where he 
learnt. The idea of this remarkable piece of household stuff had so mixed 

50. Essay, II, xxxiii, 14. 51. School-Mistress t st. 3 (1742 ed.). 

52. William Shenstone, The School-Mistress, a Poem. 1742, facsimile ed., Oxford, 
1924, Index. 



132 John Locke and English Literature 

itself with the turns and steps of all his dances, that though in that cham- 
ber he could dance excellendy well, yet it was only whilst that trunk was 
there; nor could he perform well in any other place, unless that or some 
such other trunk had its due position in the room. 53 

It is largely with such queer and ridiculous consequences of the asso- 
ciation of ideas that Sterne, the greatest exponent of this theory in 
English literature, was regularly concerned. The first chapter of the 
first book of Tristram prepares us for the calamities that will arise 
from this disease of the^mind, which was particularly hereditary in 
the Shandy family. 

— You have all, I dare say, heard of the animal spirits, as how they are 
transfused from father to son, etc. etc. — and a great deal to that purpose: 
— Well, you may take my word, that nine parts in ten of a man's sense or 
his nonsense, his successes and miscarriages in this world depend upon 
their motions and activity, and the different tracts and trains you put them 
into, so that when they are once set a-going, whether right or wrong, 'tis 
not a halfpenny matter, — away they go cluttering like hey-go mad; and 
by treading the same steps over and over again, they presendy make a 
road of it, as plain and as smooth as a garden-walk, which, when they are 
once used to, the Devil himself sometimes shall not be able to drive them 
off it. 

"Pray, my Dear," quoth my mother, "have you not forgot to wind up 
the clock?"— 54 

Tristram's birth was the preposterous and miserable result of an ab- 
normal association of ideas, worn by habit into the minds of his par- 
ents. This same operation of the understanding was constantly at 
work in Uncle Toby's poor head. 

When Trim came in and told my father, that Dr. Slop was in the kitchen, 
and busy in making a bridge — my uncle Toby — the affair of the jack- 
boots having just then raised a train of military ideas in his brain — took 
it instandy for granted that Dr. Slop was making a model of the marquis 
d'Hopital's bridge. — 'Tis very obliging in him, quoth my uncle Toby; — 
pray give my humble service to Dr. Slop, Trim, and tell him I thank him 
heartily. 55 

53. Essay, II, xxxiii, 16. 

54. Tristram Shandy, bk. I, cap. 1 : ed. Cross, pp. 1-2. 

55. Ibid., bk. Ill, cap. 26: ed. Cross, p. 170. 



Of Knowledge and Probability 133 

It is often difficult to determine what portion of the confusion is 
owing to the imperfection of words as well, since words call forth 
these strange associations, as in the following episode: 

— My young master in London is dead! said Obadiah. — 
— A green satin night-gown of my mother's, which had been twice 
scoured, was the first idea which Obadiah's exclamation brought into 
Susannah's head. — Well might Locke write a chapter upon the imper- 
fections of words. — Then, quoth Susannah, we must all go into mourning. 
— But note a second time: the word mourning, notwithstanding Susannah 
made use of it herself — failed also of doing its office; it excited not one 
single idea, tinged either with gray or black, — all was green. — The green 
satin night-gown hung there still. 

— O! 'twill be the death of my poor mistress, cried Susannah. — My moth- 
er's whole wardrobe followed. — What a procession! her red damask, — 
her orange tawney, — her white and yellow lutestrings, — her brown taffata, 
— her bone-laced caps, her bed-gowns, and comfortable under-petticoats. 56 

Finally, whiskers are introduced into the pages of Tristram Shandy 
by a wild association of ideas which Sterne will not divulge, and 
whiskers are dismissed from polite conversation because of tie fool- 
ish "accessory ideas" they inspired. 57 

Mr. Cross has already observed that the association of ideas fur- 
nished Sterne with a theory for the arrangement of the episodes of 
Tristram Shandy, thereby making it the first "stream of conscious- 
ness" novel in English literature. 

On Locke's psychology, true so far as it goes, Tristram Shandy was whim- 
sically organized. All of Sterne's digressions, which he called "the sun- 
shine of life, and the soul of reading," start from some ludicrous incident 
or from some casual remark. Thus, for obvious examples, the mishap to 
Tristram's nose at birth leads to a disquisition on long and short noses; 
and the mistake at his christening to the influence that good and bad 
names exert upon character and to the question whether the name a child 
receives in baptism must remain forever unalterable. Likewise a mild oath 
uttered by Dr. Slop when he cuts a finger provokes a discussion over the 
proper gradations in cursing, which ends with the recital of a terrible 
formula of excommunication once used by the Church of Rome. 58 

56. Ibid., bk. V, cap. 7: ed. Cross, pp. 289-90. 

57. Ibid., bk. V, cap. 1 : ed. Cross, pp. 276, 280. 

58. Sterne, Tristram Shandy, ed. Cross, p. xi. 



134 John Locke and English Literature 

The principle of the association of ideas is just as clearly at work in 
the Sentimental Journey, 

What the old French officer had delivered upon travelling, bringing Polo- 
nius's advice to his son upon the same subject into my head — and that 
bringing in Hamlet; and Hamlet the rest of Shakespeare's works, I 
stopp'd at the Quai de Conti in my return home, to purchase the whole 
set. 69 

This unique manner of writing was adopted by Henry Mackenzie 
for his Man of Feeling which appeared three years after the Senti- 
mental Journey, in 1771. Sterne's redeeming sense of drama prevented 
him from surrendering completely to this method of composition, 
though there are moments in each of the novels when the habit of 
following the association of ideas seems to frustrate any hope that the 
action will ever right itself and proceed on a logical course. 

But Mr. Cross, who was right in calling attention to the signifi- 
cance of the association of ideas in producing the peculiar order of 
events in Sterne's novels, has not, it seems, paid sufficient notice to 
the fact that it was upon an unhealthy trait of mind, which Locke 
said is the parent of confusion and chaos, that Sterne has established 
his principles of writing, with results which would in no way incline 
one to disagree with the author of the Essay concerning Human Un- 
derstanding. To the association of ideas may be traced that quality of 
madness which overlies and brightens the pages of Tristram and the 
Sentimental Journey. Locke, who put the theory of associated ideas 
into popular form, would have been the first person to assign not 
only the order of Sterne's novels, but also their irrational aspects to 
the writer's undue regard for an unfortunate mental phenomenon. 
What else could one expect but madness when noses, whiskers, 
clocks, Christian sacraments, and petty oaths like "pugh" and "psha" 
produce such ridiculous and mistaken associations in the eccentric 
minds of Sterne's uninhibited characters? Healthy-minded people in 
the Eighteenth Century probably allowed themselves but a very few 
unnatural associations of ideas, and these they would surely never 
indulge so intemperately as the inmates of Shandy Hall. I have litde 
doubt that in the path of Locke's influence an exaggerated tendency 
to associate discordant ideas was considered something of a mental 

59. Sterne, Sentimental Journey, "The Fille de Chambre— Paris": ed. Cross, p. 98. 



Of Knowledge and Probability 135 

disease, and that Sterne knowingly afflicted his characters with this 
mild psychosis. 

Incidentally, there has been no chance to refer to a quite different 
and un-L ockian use of di e-association of ideas made by Bos well, who 
has said: 

Much of the effect of musick, I am satisfied, is owing to the association 
of ideas. That air, which instandy and irresistibly excites in the Swiss, 
when in a foreign land, the maladie du pais, has, I am told, no intrinsick 
power of sound. And I know from my own experience, that Scotch reels, 
though brisk, make me melancholy, because I used to hear them in my 
early years, at a time when Mr. Pitt called for soldiers "from the moun- 
tains of the north," and numbers of brave Highlanders were going 
abroad, never to return. Whereas the airs in "The Beggar's Opera," many 
of which are very soft, never fail to render me gay, because they are asso- 
ciated with the warm sensations and high spirits of London. 60 

Twice at least Boswell speaks of the happy London associations 
which the airs of Gay's opera recalled to his mind. 

I own, I should be very sorry to have "The Beggar's Opera" suppressed; 
for there is in it so much of real London life, so much brilliant wit, and 
such a variety of airs, which, from early association of ideas, engage, 
soothe, and enliven the mind, that no performance which the theatre ex- 
hibits, delights me more. 61 



Realizing that the mind is possibly material, weak in perception 
and failing in memory, lazy, prejudiced, and often led astray by the 
wayward association of ideas, one is better prepared to examine the 
limits of human knowledge. We are for ever confined, it must be 
repeated, to the simple ideas of sensation and reflection, as "it is not 
in the power of the most exalted wit, or enlarged understanding, by 
any quickness or variety of thought, to invent or frame one new 
simple idea in the mind." 62 Swift has related this restriction to the 
possibilities of all poetic invention. 

Now the utmost a poor poet can do, is to get by heart a list of the cardinal 
virtues, and deal them with his utmost liberality to his hero, or his patron: 
he may ring the changes as far as it will go, and vary his phrase till he has 

60. Life of Johnson, ed. Hill and Powell, III, 198. 

61. Ibid., II, 368. 62. Essay, II, ii, 2. 



136 John Locke and English Literature 

talked round: but the reader quickly finds it is all pork, with a little 
variety of sauce. For there is no inventing terms of art beyond our ideas; 
and, when our ideas are exhausted, terms of art must be so too. 63 

The simile of ringing the changes applies to all man's ideas; vary 
them as we will, our thoughts, even our guesses, 64 cannot extend be- 
yond the simple ideas of sensation and reflection. Human ignorance, 
however, lies not so much in a want of ideas as in our inability to per- 
ceive the agreement and disagreement of those ideas which sensation 
and reflection have presented for the mind's consideration. "It would 
be well with us," Locke said, "if our knowledge were but as large as 
our ideas." 65 Ideas, few as they are, exhaust the understanding, and 
our minds are too weak to grasp that small amount of knowledge 
lying within our reach. 

The limits of human knowledge are best defined by reviewing 
what we know concerning the existence of ourselves, material sub- 
stance, spiritual beings other than man, and finally of God. Of the 
existence of ourselves we have a direct, intuitive knowledge, which 
may dispense with the proofs and demonstrations of reason. Every 
sensation of pleasure and pain convinces us that we have a being. 66 

But material substance escapes us so completely that it is a most 
"incurable part of ignorance." 67 The existence of matter is proved 
by physical sensation, 68 especially the unavoidable feelings of pleas- 
ure and pain produced in us by external objects. Let one at noon but 
turn his eyes to the sun, Locke would say, and be assured of the 
reality of matter. 69 

And if our dreamer pleases to try whether the glowing heat of a glass 
furnace be barely a wandering imagination in a drowsy man's fancy, by 
putting his hand into it, he may perhaps be wakened into a certainty 
greater than he could wish, that it is something more than bare imagina- 
tion. 70 

This reminds one of Johnson's "striking his foot with mighty force 
against a large stone" in the presence of Boswell, thereby refuting 

63. Tale of a Tub: Prose Wor\s, ed. Temple Scott, I, 45. 

64. Essay, II, xxiii, 13. 65. Essay, IV, iii, 6. 
66. Essay, IV, ix, 3. 67. Essay, IV, iii, 12. 
68. Essay, IV, xi, 3. 69. Essay, IV, xi, 5. 
70. Essay, IV, xi, 8. 






Of Knowledge and Probability 137 

"Bishop Berkeley's ingenious sophistry to prove the non-existence of 
matter." 71 Though we are certain matter exists and also possess 
through sensation some ideas of its primary and secondary qualities, 
what substance really is can never be known to man — except by reve- 
lation. 72 Locke therefore believed that "natural philosophy is not 
capable of being made a science!'™ 

Mystery, which was fleeing before the light cast upon the under- 
standing in the first part of Locke's "Essay, now returns with the 
realization that we have been enlightened but to see that all the physi- 
cal world baffles the mind and defeats human inquiry. Swift, learning 
that the senses do not take us beyond the colour, shape, and size of 
material objects and that the actual qualities of substances remain un- 
known, 74 reverendy accepted these mysteries of nature along with 
those of religion. 75 No English writer was more sensible of this aspect 
of man's ignorance than Sterne, who, having taken a mirthful ap- 
proach to the Essay, nevertheless followed Locke to the most serious 
conc!uslons~6f~his philosophy. Three times he repeated the phrase, 
"mysteries and riddles," in reference to the secrets of the material 
world. In Tristram Shandy, Book Four, Chapter Seventeen, he wrote: 

We live amongst riddles and mysteries — the most obvious things, which 
come in our way, have dark sides, which the quickest sight cannot pene- 
trate into; and even the clearest and most exalted understandings amongst 
us find ourselves puzzled and at a loss in almost every cranny of nature's 
works. 

Later in the novel there is the sentence, "We live in a world beset on 
all sides with mysteries and riddles — ," 76 while in the Sermons we 
read: 

That in many dark and abstracted questions of mere speculation, we 
should err — is not strange: we live amongst mysteries and riddles, and 
almost every thing which comes in our way, in one light or other, may be 
said to baffle our understandings. 77 

71. Boswell, Life of Johnson, ed. Hill and Powell, I, 471. 

72. Essay JV, vi, 14. 73. Essay, IV, xii, 10. 

74. Tale of a Tub: Prose Works, ed. Temple Scott, I, 120. 

75. "On the Trinity": Prose Wor\s, ed. Temple Scott, IV, 133, 137. 

76. Tristram Shandy, bk. IX, cap. 22: ed. Cross, p. 508. 

77. 'Telix's Behaviour towards Paul Examined": Sermons, I, 222-3. 



138 John Locke and English Literature 

These riddles and mysteries of the natural world are discussed in 
more detail in his sermon on "The Ways of Providence Justified to 
Man." 

Does not the meanest flower in the field, or the smallest blade of grass, 
baffle the understanding of the most penetrating mind? — Can the deepest 
enquirers after nature tell us, upon what particular size and motion of 
parts the various colours and tastes in vegetables depend; — why one shrub 
is laxative, — another restringent; — why arsenic or hellebore should lay 
waste this noble frame of ours, — or opium lock up all the inroads to our 
i senses, — and plunder us in so merciless a manner of reason and under- 
standing? — Nay, have not the most obvious things that come in our way 
dark sides, which the quickest sight cannot penetrate into; and do not the 
clearest and most exalted understandings find themselves puzzled, and at 
a loss, in every particle of matter? 78 

We wonder how many in Yorick's congregation realized this was 
Locke's philosophy, and could recall a similar passage in the Essay. 

I doubt not but if we could discover the figure, size, texture, and motion 
of the minute constituent parts of any two bodies, we should know with- 
out trial several of their operations one upon another; . . . Did we know 
the mechanical affections of the particles of rhubarb, hemlock, opium, and 
a man, ... we should be able to tell beforehand that rhubarb will purge, 
hemlock kill, and opium make a man sleep. 79 

Although we can never know perfectly any part of the natural 
world, we may discover many things about it which will be service- 
able in human life. A utilitarian approach to nature is exactly what 
Locke advises. 

Experiments and historical observations we may have, from which we 
may draw advantages of ease and health, and thereby increase our stock 
of conveniences for this life; but beyond this I fear our talents reach not, 
nor are our faculties, as I guess, able to advance. 80 

The aim of natural studies, Locke argues, should be to utilize our 
imperfect knowledge of matter for practical ends and to seek physi- 
cal discoveries comparable to the invention of printing and the com- 

78. Sermons, II, 254. 79. Essay, IV, iii, 25. 

80. Essay, IV, xii, 10. 



Of Knowledge and Probability 139 

pass, which have respectively spread knowledge and supplied man 
with useful commodities. 81 It was such utilitarian philosophy, I sus- 
pect, that directed most Eighteenth-Century inquiries into nature. 
This "hunt of Pan" was conducted not by pure scientists alone but by 
individuals in all walks of life, for everyone who professed any in- 
tellectual interest seems to have concerned himself with natural phi- 
losophy and to have applied in a simple way the scientific method. 
It is reasonable to say that the scientific method was much more 
widely practised in the Eighteenth Century than in the Twentieth, 
for they realized then what we fail to see, that the scientific approach 
is a very simple one, which may be adopted and employed by all. 

Johnson's practical interest in natural philosophy, as the various 
studies of nature were then called, was not uncharacteristic of the 
man of letters of his age. A love of chemistry never forsook Johnson 
throughout his life, 82 and in his library where manuscripts were 
strewn about the floor there stood on his desk an apparatus for per- 
forming chemical experiments. 83 Johnson was always making little 
researches in one department or another of natural philosophy, partly 
to amuse himself in his moments of solitude, 84 pardy also I think be- 
cause he believed that humanity might possibly be benefited by a 
chance discovery of importance. The advantages resulting from sci- 
ence were definitely in Johnson's mind when he advised a young 
doctor going to America to be sure to observe carefully the vegetables 
and animals of that country with which philosophers were not well 
acquainted. 

I hope you will furnish yourself with some books of natural history, and 
some glasses and other instruments of observation. Trust as litde as you 
can to report; examine all you can by your own senses. I do not doubt but 
you will be able to add much to knowledge, and, perhaps, to medicine. 
Wild nations trust to simples; and, perhaps, the Peruvian bark is not the 
only specifick which those extensive regions may afford us. 86 

Johnson's own experiments do not seem to have been world-shaking 
in their significance, but they are interesting. On one occasion while 
he was whetting a knife he by accident knicked one of his finger nails. 

81. Essay, TV, xii, 12. 

82. Boswell, Life of Johnson, ed. Hill and Powell, I, 140. 

83. Ibid., L, 436. 84. Ibid., Ill, 398. 85. Ibid., I, 367-8. 



140 John Locke and English Literature 

He then measured the progress of this knick towards the end of the 
nail so that he might thus know the growth of nails. 86 On August 7, 
1779, he performed a similar experiment when he shaved the hair on 
his arm and chest so that he might find out how much time is re- 
quired for hair to grow. 87 Of less tonsorial interest is the experiment 
described in his diary for August 15, 1783, where he notes: "I cut 
from the vine 41 leaves, which weighed five oz. and a half, and eight 
scruples: — I lay them upon my book-case, to see what weight they 
will lose by drying." 88 One is reminded of Voltaire, who, having like 
Johnson this passion for making scientific observations, weighed with 
considerable difficulty a ton of red-hot iron. 89 

The learn'd is happy nature to explore. 90 

Johnson enjoyed the researches of others as well as his own, for at 
Beauclerk's house at Windsor we see him being entertained with ex- 
periments in natural philosophy, 91 while during a visit in Wiltshire 
we find him attending experiments in new kinds of air where the 
name of the free-thinking Priesdey was mentioned so often as to dis- 
gust him. 92 In this interest in the various practical aspects of natural 
philosophy Johnson is only typical of the Eighteenth-Century scholar 
and thinker, who believed that a good deal of weighing, measuring, 
testing and the like would by all the laws of chance reveal facts about 
nature which would be serviceable to man. But final truths about 
material substance one never expected to learn, without departing 
upon Berkeleian circumnavigations of the physical world. 

Concerning the existence of spiritual beings other than man and 
God, our minds are "in the dark," 93 and "what we hope to know of 
separate spirits in this world, we must, I think, expect only from 
revelation." 9 * 

Angels of all sorts are naturally beyond our discovery; and all those in- 
telligences, whereof it is likely there are more orders than of corporeal 

86. Boswell, Life of Johnson, ed. Hill and Powell, m, 398, n. 3. 

87. Ibid. 88. Ibid. 

89. S. G. Tallentyre, Life of Voltaire, New York, 1905, p. 95. 

90. Pope, Essay on Man, II, 263. 

91. Boswell, Life of Johnson, ed. Hill and Powell, I, 250. 

92. Ibid., IV, 237-8. 93. Essay, IV, iii, 17. 
94. Essay, IV, xii, 12. 



Of Knowledge and Probability 141 

substances, are things whereof our natural faculties give us no certain 
account at all. 95 

By reasoning from the classic philosophical concept of a chain of life 
we may, however, become almost certain that several grades and 
degrees of intellectual beings rise between man and God. 

It is not impossible to conceive, nor repugnant to reason, that there may 
be many species of spirits, as much separated and diversified one from 
another by distinct properties whereof we have no ideas, as the species of 
sensible things are distinguished one from another by qualities which we 
know and observe in them. That there should be more species of intelli- 
gent creatures above us, than there are of sensible and material below us, 
is probable to me from hence: that in all the visible corporeal world, we 
see no chasms or gaps. All quite down from us the descent is by easy 
steps, and a continued series of things, that in each remove differ very 
little one from the other. There are fishes that have wings, and are not 
strangers to the airy region: and there are some birds that are inhabitants 
of the water, whose blood is cold as fishes, and their flesh so like in taste 
that the scrupulous are allowed them on fish-days. There are animals so 
near of kin both to birds and beasts that they are in the middle between 
both: amphibious animals link the terrestrial and aquatic together; seals 
live at land and sea, and porpoises have the warm blood and entrails of 
a hog; not to mention what is confidently reported of mermaids, or sea- 
men. There are some brutes that seem to have as much knowledge and 
reason as some that are called men: and the animal and vegetable king- 
doms are so nearly joined, that, if you will take the lowest of one and the 
highest of the other, there will scarce be perceived any great difference be- 
tween them: and so on, till we come to the lowest and the most inorganical 
parts of matter, we shall find everywhere that the several species are linked 
together, and differ but in almost insensible degrees. And when we con- 
sider the infinite power and wisdom of the Maker, we have reason to 
think that it is suitable to the magnificent harmony of the universe, and 
the great design and infinite goodness of the Architect, that the species of 
creatures should also, by gentle degrees, ascend upward from us toward 
his infinite perfection, as we see they gradually descend from us down- 
wards: which if it be probable, we have reason then to be persuaded that 
there are far more species of creatures above us than there are beneath; we 
being, in degrees of perfection, much more remote from the infinite being 
of God than we are from the lowest state of being, and that which ap- 

95. Essay, IV, Hi, 27. 



142 John Locke and English Literature 

proaches nearest to nothing. And yet of all those distinct species, ... we 
have no clear distinct ideas. 96 

The chain of life, as Locke imagined it, was the most popular con- 
cept of Eighteenth-Century thought, for it was examined and gen- 
erally approved by all philosophical parties, Watts and Young of the 
conservative right, Pope and Bolingbroke of the left, and Addison 
and Thomson representing the center. Stationed upon the scale of 
life, a man may look upward in the direction of angels and down- 
ward upon lowest living beings, as Addison has done. 

If the scale of being rises by such a regular progress so high as man, we 
may by a parity of reason suppose that it still proceeds gradually through 
those beings which are of a superior nature to him, since there is an in- 
finitely greater space and room for different degrees of perfection, between 
the Supreme Being and man, than between man and the most despicable 
insect. This consequence of so great a variety of beings which are superior 
to us, from that variety which is inferior to us, is made by Mr. Locke in a 
passage which I shall here set down, after having premised that notwith- 
standing there is such infinite room between man and his Maker for the 
creative power to exert itself in, it is impossible that it should ever be filled 
up, since there will be still an infinite gap or distance between the highest 
created being and the power which produced him. 

Following a quotation from the paragraph of the Essay given above, 
Addison concludes 

that he, who in one respect is associated with angels and archangels, may 
look upon a being of infinite perfection as his father, and the highest order 
of spirits as his brethren, may in another respect say to corruption, "Thou 
art my father, and to the worm, Thou art my mother and my sister." 97 

The chain of life, by no means intended to indicate man's almost 
evolutionary relationship to lower animals, was wholly a device for 
looking up towards angels, in a manner well suited to the optimism 
of Edward Young's philosophy. 

Look nature thro', 'tis neat gradation all. 
By what minute degrees her scale ascends! 
Each middle nature join'd at each extreme, 

96. Essay, m, vi, 12. 97. Spectator, No. 519. 



Of Knowledge and Probability 143 

To that above it join'd, to that beneath. 
Parts, into parts reciprocally shot, 
Abhor divorce: what love of union reigns! 
Here, dormant matter waits a call to life; 
Half-life, half-death, join there; here, life and sense; 
There, sense from reason steals a glimm'ring ray; 
Reason shines out in man. But how preserv'd 
The chain unbroken upward, to the realms 
Of incorporeal life? Those realms of bliss, 
Where death hath no dominion? Grant a make 
Half -mortal, half-immortal; earthy, part, 
And part ethereal; grant the soul of man 
Eternal; or in man the series ends. 
Wide yawns the gap; connection is no more; 
Check'd reason halts; her next step wants support; 
Striving to climb, she tumbles from her scheme; 
A scheme, analogy pronounc'd so true; 
Analogy, man's surest guide below. 98 

That Young is arguing for the existence of higher spiritual beings by 
analogy, just as Locke, suggests that his source was the Essay. Thom- 
son is brief, clear, but slightly questioning on this problem of the 
reality of species of intelligent creatures superior to man. 

High Heaven forbids the bold presumptuous strain, 
Whose wisest will has fixed us in a state 
That must not yet to pure perfection rise: 
Besides, who knows, how, raised to higher life, 
From stage to stage, the vital scale ascends?" 

The uncertainty expressed in these lines of Spring was repeated in 
Summer. 

Has any seen 
The mighty chain of beings, lessening down 
From infinite perfection to the brink 
Of dreary nothing, desolate abyss! 
From which astonished thought recoiling turns? 100 

98. Night Thoughts, VI, 714-34. 99. Spring, 374-8. 

100. Summer, 333-7. 



144 John Locke and English Literature 

Southey tells us it was Wesley's opinion 

that there is a chain of beings advancing by degrees from the lowest to 
the highest point — from an atom of unorganized matter, to the highest of 
the archangels; an opinion consonant to the philosophy of the bards, and 
confirmed by science, as far as our physiological knowledge extends. 101 

If it would convince man that he occupies but a very low place in the 
great intellectual scheme of the universe, Bolingbroke was prepared 
to believe in the existence of angels: 

the gradation of sense and intelligence in our own [world], from animal 
to animal, and of intelligence, principally, up to man, as well as the very 
abrupt manner, if I may say so, in which this evidendy unfinished intel- 
lectual system stops at the human species, gives great reason to believe, 
that this gradation is continued upwards in other systems, as we perceive 
it to be continued downwards in ours. We may well suspect that ours is 
the lowest, in this respect, of all mundane systems; since the rational is so 
nearly connected, as it is here, with the irrational: and there may be as 
much difference between some other creature of God, without having re- 
course to angels and archangels, and man, as there is between a man and 
an oister. 102 

Simply by reversing the emphasis Watts was able to support the 
theory of the chain of life in almost identical words : 

there may be as many various Ranks of Beings in the invisible World in 
a constant Gradation superior to us, as we ourselves are superior to all 
the Ranks of Being beneath us in this visible World; even though we 
descend downward far below the Ant and the Worm, the Snail and the 
Oyster, to the least and to the dullest animated Atoms which are discov- 
ered to us by Microscopes. 103 

Incidentally, from what we here read in Bolingbroke and Watts, it 
is permissible to assume that in Eighteenth-Century thought the 
oyster rested very near the lowest link in the chain of life, just as it 
does in Holbach's System of Nature. 104 Locke would be in agree- 
ment, for he said, "We may, . . . from the make of an oyster or 

io i. Life of Wesley, ed. Fitzgerald, II, 72. 

102. Wor\s, IV, 177. 

103. Improvement of the Mind, Part I, cap. 16: ed. 1741, pp. 224-5. 

104. Morley, Diderot and the Encyclopedists, II, 170. 



Of Knowledge and Probability 145 

cockle, reasonably conclude that it has not so many, nor so quick 
senses as a man, or several other animals." 105 The oyster was again 
discredited in Prior's Dialogue between hoc\e and Montaigne, when 
John, the servant, said to the cook, "Tho you have stewed many a 
Barrel and quart of Oysters, you never examined if an Oyster was 
capable of thinking; and tho you have seen many a hundred of Old 
Men, you never found out that an Old Man, who has lost his Senses 
is exceedingly like an Oyster." 106 An age which gave its thoughtful 
consideration to the intellectual aptitude of the oyster was not undis- 
cerning in things of the mind. 

The chain of life, used by Locke as an analogy to prove the exist- 
ence of intellectual beings higher than man, was an adaptable theory, 
fitting so well into every philosophy that, if it was suited for the 
Night Thoughts, it was also applicable to the scheme set forth in the 
Essay on Man. 

See, through this air, this ocean, and this earth, 
All matter quick, and bursting into birth. 
Above, how high progressive life may go! 
Around, how wide! how deep extend below! 
Vast chain of being! which from God began, 
Natures ethereal, human, angel, man, 
Beast, bird, fish, insect, what no eye can see, 
No glass can reach; from infinite to thee, 
From thee to nothing. On superior pow'rs 
Were we to press, inferior might on ours: 
Or in the full creation leave a void, 
Where, one step broken, the great scale's destroyed: 
From nature's chain whatever link you strike, 
Tenth or ten thousandth, breaks the chain alike. 107 

The chain of life is thus brought to support Pope's necessitarian doc- 
trine, which commands us to submit to our human lot and forego 
desires for powers and perfections not belonging to our position 
in the scale of being. If more knowledge, more goodness, greater 
strength were given to man, a link in this vast chain would be broken, 
whereupon the whole creation would be destroyed. Such is man's 

105. Essay, II, ix, 13. This paragraph is quoted entire in the Spectator, No. 121. 

106. Dialogues of the Dead and Other Wor\s in Prose and Verse, ed. Waller, p. 245. 

107. Essay on Man, I, 233-46. 



146 John Locke and English Literature 

restless ambition, however, that he is envious both of angels of the 
ascending scale and of brutes of the descending order. 

What would this Man? now upward will he soar, 
And little less than angel, would be more! 
Now looking downwards, just as grieved appears 
To want the strength of bulls, the fur of bears. 108 

Pope has given to the theory of the chain of life a meaning it did 
not have in Locke's Essay when he used it to prove the Tightness of 
whatever is, especially the propriety of the condition of humanity. 

The most impressive thing about the chain of life is its congeniality 
and adaptability, when it can be accepted by men of such varied 
philosophical opinions as Young and Pope, Watts and Bolingbroke. 
Pamela turned this pliant theory to a convenience all her own, finding 
comfort in the humiliations of an inferior social position in the lines, 

Nor let the rich the lowest slave disdain: 
He's equally a lin\ of Nature's chain} 09 

Since this agreeable hypothesis, however, undertakes to prove the 
existence of intellectual beings, angels and archangels, ranging in 
neat gradation from man upward to God, its universal acceptance 
allows one to conclude that the Eighteenth-Century heaven was 
thronged with a multitude of spirits, to which man was allied and 
bound, actually chained. The age of reason, however it may have 
divorced itself from the other world, was not unattended by the min- 
isters of grace. 

Thus far we have considered man's knowledge concerning the 
existence of himself, of the physical world outside himself, and of 
intellectual beings above him. Proceeding now to a fourth question, 
we learn that the existence of God, neither doubtful nor problemati- 
cal like that of intermediate spirits, may be proved to our complete 
satisfaction simply by demonstration, without the assistance of 
analogy or revelation. Though we have no innate idea of God, 110 by 
reasoning that He is the first cause, His existence becomes a certain 
and undeniable part of knowledge. Knowing that we exist and that 

108. Essay on Man, I, 173-6. 

109. Richardson, Pamela: Wor\s, ed. Stephen, I, 293. 
no. Essay, IV, x, 1. 



Of Knowledge and Probability 147 

something cannot be produced by nothing, "it is an evident demon- 
stration, that from eternity there has been something." 111 That Being 
furthermore is most powerful, for He is the source and original of 
all the forces which have been present in the world and universe from 
the beginning. 112 When we realize that in ourselves there is percep- 
tion and knowledge, which could not be created by ignorance, we 
also become certain that from eternity there has been a knowing 
Being. 113 

Thus, from the consideration of ourselves, and what we infallibly find in 
our own constitutions, our reason leads us to the knowledge of this certain 
and evident truth, — That there is an eternal, most powerful, and most 
fyiowing Being. 11 * 

On a desolate island Robinson Crusoe convinced Friday of God's 
being by this same argument, 115 and in the fashionable salons of Paris 
Yorick passed his time demonstrating to the ladies the necessity of a 
first cause. 118 The conception of God as the first cause, acknowledged 
by Bacon 117 and Hobbes 118 and adopted by Locke in the Essay, has 
been so common and popular in all ages with all men, regardless of 
faith or philosophy, that Pope's "Universal Prayer" quite naturally 
addressed the "Great First Cause." 

While there is no difficulty in knowing that God exists, when we 
would imagine the nature and attributes of the Almighty Being, we 
immediately realize, as did Pope, the meanness of the simple ideas to 
which we are restricted. 

Of God above or man below, 
What can we reason but from what we know? 119 

Our idea of God can contain therefore nothing more than several 
simple ideas raised to infinity in the manner explained by Addison. 

If we consider the idea which wise men, by the light of reason, have 
framed of the Divine Being, it amounts to this: that He has in Him all 

in. Essay, IV, x, 3. 112. Essay, IV, x, 4. 

113. Essay, IV, x, 5. 114. Essay, IV, x, 6. 

115. Defoe, Robinson Crusoe, London, 1910, p. 202. 

116. Sterne, Sentimental Journey, "Paris": ed. Cross, p. 155. 

117. "Of Atheism": Essays, No. 16. 118. Leviathan, Part I, cap. 12. 
119. Essay on Man, I, 17-18. 



148 John Locke and English Literature 

the perfection of a spiritual nature; and since we have no notion of any 
kind of spiritual perfection but what we discover in our own souls, we 
join infinitude to each kind of these perfections, and what is a faculty in 
an human soul becomes an attribute in God. We exist in place and time, 
the Divine Being fills the immensity of space with His presence, and 
inhabits eternity. We are possessed of a litde power and a little knowledge, 
the Divine Being is almighty and omniscient. In short, by adding infinity 
to any kind of perfection we enjoy, and by joining all these different kinds 
of perfections in one being, we form our idea of the great Sovereign of 
nature. 

Though every one who thinks must have made this observation, I shall 
produce Mr. Locke's authority to the same purpose, out of his essay on 
Human Understanding. 120 

Here Addison quotes the following passage from the Essay: 

For if we examine the idea we have of the incomprehensible Supreme 
Being, we shall find that we come by it the same way; and that the com- 
plex ideas we have both of God, and separate spirits, are made of the 
simple ideas we receive from reflection: v.g. having, from what we experi- 
ment in ourselves, got the ideas of existence and duration; of knowledge 
and power; of pleasure and happiness; and of several other qualities and 
powers, which it is better to have than to be without; when we would 
frame an idea the most suitable we can to the Supreme Being, we enlarge 
every one of these with our idea of infinity; and so putting them together, 
make our complex idea of God. 121 

In forming a conception of the Deity man feels especially hampered, 
for God cannot be defined in terms of our limited ideas though we 
raise to infinity those intellectual and spiritual powers which are con- 
sidered the perfection of humanity. Noble as the human conception 
of intelligence appears, the mind of God may differ from that of man 
in kind as well as in degree, for certainly the Deity is not obliged to 
receive ideas from sensation. Worthy as man's conception of good- 
ness may be, Bolingbroke added, God's notion of virtue may be 
wholly unlike that of man, wherefore man in doing what he consid- 
ers righteous may be opposing directly the will of God. 122 In carrying 
Locke's argument to this vicious conclusion, which would leave hu- 

120. Spectator, No. 531. 121. Essay, II, xxiii, 33. 

122. Works, IV, 86. 



Of Knowledge and Probability 149 

manity without sure moral guidance, Bolingbroke departed from 
both the reasoning and the spirit of the Essay concerning Human 
Understanding, and was rightly challenged by Gray 123 and Field- 
ing. 124 Locke never questioned the correctness of our knowledge of 
God's moral commands as revealed in the Bible, but His personal 
traits of mind and body he thought must remain for ever an un- 
searchable mystery. While Bacon believed that "it has pleased God 
of his goodness to accommodate himself to the capacity of man," 125 
so that He is cognizable in all His characteristics, after Locke the 
general opinion is that human knowledge of divine things is like a 
blind man's knowledge of light and colour. 126 Familiar become such 
accounts of man's ignorance of God as the following in Goldsmith: 

Surely all men are blind and ignorant of truth. Mankind wanders, un- 
knowing his way, from morning till evening. Where shall we turn after 
happiness; or is it wisest to desist from the pursuit? — Like reptiles in a 
corner of some stupendous palace, we peep from our holes, look about us, 
wonder at all we see, but are ignorant of the great architect's design. Oh, 
for a revelation of Himself, for a plan of his universal system! 127 

To assist mankind beyond the narrow and confining limits of 
actual knowledge, there are two auxiliaries, probability and faith. 

Probability . . ., being to supply the defect of our knowledge, and to 
guide us where that fails, is always conversant about propositions whereof 
we have no certainty, but only some inducements to receive them for 
true. 128 

Probable truths regarding matters of fact that permit human obser- 
vation and yet cannot be known, may be established by the com- 
bined judgment of mankind. 

The first . . . and highest degree of probability, is, when the general con- 
sent of all men, in all ages, as far as it can be known, concurs with a man's 

123. "Essay on .the Philosophy of Lord Bolingbroke": Worths, ed. Gosse, I, (287)- 
91. 

124. "Fragment of a Comment on Lord Bolingbroke's Essays": Wor\s, ed. Browne, 
X, (325)-39- 

125. Of the Dignity and Advancement of Learning: Philosophical Wor\s, ed. Rob- 
ertson, p. 503. 

126. Leslie Stephen, History of English Thought in the Eighteenth Century, I, 115. 

127. Citizen of the World, Letter 22. 128. Essay, IV, xv, 4. 



150 John Locke and English Literature 

constant and never-failing experience in like cases, to confirm the truth of 
any particular matter of fact attested by fair witnesses. 129 

If, for instance, it cannot be demonstrated that matter is senseless, the 
probability that it is inanimate becomes almost a certainty since this 
is the testimony and general consent of all men in all ages, and it 
agrees with our own constant experience. History is an example of a 
subject determined wholly by probability. Since it is impossible to 
examine by ourselves any supposed historical fact, 180 the degree to 
which a recorded event of the past rises from probability to certainty 
depends entirely upon the worth of the testimony of other people. To 
the early Eighteenth-Century scorn of history numerous reasons have 
been assigned, as explanations also have been given for the return to 
history that characterized the latter part of the century. 131 Among 
the causes for the early unpopularity of this study, it seems reasonable 
to suggest that the sheer inaccuracy of the subject, implied in Locke's 
statement that history is altogether a matter of probability, would 
have made it an undesirable pursuit in an age when thinkers were 
trying to be very exact and scientific. There is a little evidence at 
least to show that history suffered on this account in the Eighteenth 
Century. Take the brief but striking remark of Walpole's father, 
"Any thing but history, for history must be false." 132 Johnson is 
equally prejudiced against this "shallow" species of writing, because 
it is so conjectural. "We must consider," he says, "how very little his- 
tory there is; I mean real authentick history. That certain Kings 
reigned, and certain battles were fought, we can depend upon as true; 
but all the colouring, all the philosophy, of history is conjecture." 133 
While all mankind must frequently rely upon probability in mat- 
ters concerning the present and past where certain knowledge is im- 
possible, the individual is constantly obliged to seek refuge in proba- 
bility in regulating his conduct and opinions, unless he would be a 
complete sceptic. 184 

129. Essay, IV, xvi, 6. 130. Essay, IV, xvi, 7-1 1. 

131. Carl Becker, Heavenly City of the Eighteenth-Century Philosophers, New 
Haven, 1932, cap. 3. 

132. Quoted in Walpoliana, 2 vols., London, [1799], I, 60. No. 79. 

133. Boswell, Life of Johnson, ed. Hill and Powell, II, 365-6. 

134. Essay, IV, xvi, 2. 



Of Knowledge and Probability 151 

Who almost is there that hath the leisure, patience, and means to collect 
together all the proofs concerning most of the opinions he has, so as safely 
to conclude that he hath a clear and full view; and that there is no more 
to be alleged for his better information? 135 

Therefore "in this fleeting state of action and blindness" 186 each per- 
son must confidently believe many things to be true without further 
surety than that others have testified to their truth. When, to the gen- 
eral consideration that all men are obliged to live in uncertainty re- 
garding their minds that think, the substances they handle, and the 
God they worship, is added a realization of the incapacities of the 
individual for attaining what little knowledge there is, then we are 
ready to hear Locke say: 

Therefore, as God has set some things in broad daylight; as he has 
given us some certain knowledge, though limited to a few things in com- 
parison, probably as a taste of what intellectual creatures are capable of to 
excite in us a desire and endeavour after a better state: so, in the greatest 
part of our concernments, he has afforded us only the twilight, as I may 
so say, of probability; suitable, I presume, to that state of mediocrity and 
probationership he has been pleased to place us in here; wherein, to check 
our over-confidence and presumption, we might, by every day's experi- 
ence, be made sensible of our short-sightedness and liableness to error; 
the sense whereof might be a constant admonition to us, to spend the days 
of this our pilgrimage with industry and care, in the search and follow- 
ing of that way which might lead us to a state of greater perfection. It 
being highly rational to think, even were revelation silent in the case, that, 
as men employ those talents God has given them here, they shall accord- 
ingly receive their rewards at the close of the day, when their sun shall 
set, and night shall put an end to their labours. 137 

The Eighteenth Century, by no means the clear, bright land some 
have imagined, had its own twilight and shadows. It was a world not 
of certainties but only of probabilities, agreeable or not to men ac- 
cording to their tempers. For Thomas Paine it was even pleasant to 
consider the existence of Christ as a matter only of probability. 188 

135. Essay, IV, xvi, 3. 136. Essay, IV, xvi, 4. 

137. Essay, IV, xiv, 2. 

138. Age of Reason, Part I, cap. 3: Writings, ed. Conway, IV, 27. 



152 John Locke and English Literature 

But for Bishop Butler, that gloomy soul who loved to walk alone and 
to walk at night, it was sorrowful to think that the existence of the 
Christian God behind the universe could be a matter only of proba- 
bility and not of certainty. 

The connection between Locke's discussion of probability and 
English literature must be of an indefinite nature, for it is hardly 
significant that Fielding has said a writer "must keep . . . within the 
rules of probability," as well as possibility. 139 For our general under- 
standing of the Eighteenth Century it is, however, important to re- 
member that in this age man was resorting in a democratic manner 
to the universal judgment of his fellow-men to establish probable 
truths in a world of uncertainties. Not only did the century present 
a state of society in which democracy seemed desirable, but it also 
entertained quite innocendy a philosophical theory that truth was a 
matter of suffrage, wherefore we may say that the Eighteenth Cen- 
tury had an epistemological as well as a social and economic necessity 
for democracy. But that some might paradoxically have liberal theo- 
ries of knowledge but conservative notions of society, we have as 
proof the examples of Johnson and Hume, both of whom considered 
suffrage the soundest test of truth and both of whom favoured sub- 
ordination in society. 

Invaluable as the universal judgment of mankind is, it is incapable 
of assisting us to probabilities or certainties regarding many matters, 
such as immortality, of which we desire knowledge. For our in- 
formation regarding these questions we must depend upon the direct 
testimony of God. This testimony is given the name of revelation, 
and our assent to the truth revealed is called faith. 140 "Only we must 
be sure" Locke warns, "that it be a divine revelation, and that we un- 
derstand it right" 141 If we are rationally convinced that the revela- 
tion is from God, then there is the highest reason for giving our assent 
to the truth revealed, for God "cannot deceive nor be deceived." 142 

The obvious emphasis Locke placed upon faith in matters tran- 
scending human investigation makes it unpardonable that Isaac 
Watts should have written a poem in which the philosopher is repre- 
sented as an unwilling surrenderer to this principle of knowledge. 

139. Tom Jones, bk. VIII, cap. 1 : Wor\s, cd. Browne, VI, 440. 

140. Essay, IV, xvi, 14. 141. Ibid. 
142. Ibid. 



Of Knowledge and Probability 153 

Faith, thou bright Cherub, speak and say 

Did ever Mind of mortal Race 

Cost thee more Toyl or larger Grace 

To melt and bend it to obey. 
'Twas hard to make so rich a Soul submit, 
And lay her shining Honours at thy sovereign Feet. 143 

The poem ends with a picture of Locke in heaven, crying, in a dis- 
traught manner, 

Forgive . . . , Ye Saints below 
The wav'ring and the cold Assent 
I gave to Themes divinely true; 
Can you admit the Blessed to repent? 
Eternal Darkness vail the Lines 
Of that unhappy Book, 
Where feeble Reason with false Lustre shines, 
Where the meer Mortal Pen mistook 
What the Coelestial meant! 

While the book referred to was but a minor .work of Locke, Watts's 
criticism calls for a defense from the Essay itself. Locke can be 
charged with giving cold assent to revealed truths only because he 
required that reason govern man's belief in revelations. There are 
some things, he contended, man's judgment would tell him concern- 
ing all revelations, and first, that God will reveal nothing contradic- 
tory to reason : 

we cannot tell how to conceive that to come from God, the bountiful 
Author of our being, which, if received for true, must overturn all the 
principles and foundations of knowledge he has given us. 144 

Thoroughly convinced that reason had been given to man by the 
Almighty for his guide in life, Locke was tlieref ore certain that God 
would reveal nothing which would confuse and perplex the mind, 
and thereby "wholly destroy the most excellent part of his work- 
manship, our understandings." 145 Accordingly he concluded, "Noth- 
ing that is contrary to, and inconsistent with, the clear and self-evident 

143. "On Mr. Lock's Annotations upon several Parts of the New Testament, left 
behind him at his Death": Horce Lyricce, London, 1709, pp. 205-07. 

144. Essay, IV, xviii, 5. 145. Ibid. 



154 John Locke and English Literature 

dictates of reason, has a right to be urged or assented to as a matter of 
faith, wherein reason hath nothing to do." 146 By this standard Locke 
was obliged to accept no truth revealed in the Bible without first put- 
ting it to the test of reason. To the dismay of Isaac Watts he did sub- 
ject the Scriptures to this trial, the happy results of which he pub- 
lished in his book, The Reasonableness of Christianity. Compare this 
attitude with Bacon's passive opinion that "the more discordant there- 
fore and incredible the Divine mystery is, the more honour is shown 
to God in believing it, and the nobler is the victory of faith." 147 Two 
philosophies could not be more opposed. Pascal like Bacon divorced 
reason from faith, 148 while Sir Thomas Browne felt that it was "no 
vulgar part of Faith, to believe a thing not only above, but contrary to 
Reason, and against the Arguments of our proper Senses." 149 In simi- 
lar fashion Dryden was prepared to discard "dim" reason and accept 
all things on trust. 

Rest then, my soul, from endless anguish freed: 
Nor sciences thy guide, nor sense thy creed. 
Faith is the best ensurer of thy bliss; 
The bank above must fail before the venture miss. 150 

Wesley strangely enough followed Locke in believing that nothing 
contradictory to reason should be accepted as a matter of faith, 151 and 
at the same time he sought personal revelations of the divine will 
through bibliomancy and other forms of superstitious divination. 

Faith in revelations without the curb of reason was caustically des- 
ignated enthusiasm in a chapter Locke added to the fourth edition of 
the Essay in 1700. 152 In a restricted and proper sense enthusiasm might 
mean a modest acceptance of the revealed truths of the Bible without 
consulting one's reason, but more particularly it describes the vain 
practices of those who believe the Divine Spirit is constandy dis- 
closing truths to them personally, on no other ground than that God 
once promised He would show Himself to men. 

146. Essay, IV, xviii, 10. 

147. Of the Dignity and Advancement of Learning: Philosophical Wor\s, ed. Rob- 
ertson, p. 631. 

148. Bacon, Novum Organum, ed. Fowler, p. 53. 

149. Religio Medici, Part I, sec. 10. 150. Hind and the Panther, I, 146-9. 

151. Southey, Life of Wesley, ed. Fitzgerald, I, 27. 

152. Essay, IV, xix. 



Of Knowledge and Probability 155 

Their minds being thus prepared, whatever groundless opinion comes to 
setde itself strongly upon their fancies, is an illumination from the Spirit 
of God, and presently of divine authority: and whatsoever odd action they 
find in themselves a strong inclination to do, that impulse is concluded to 
be a call or direction from heaven, and must be obeyed: it is a commission 
from above, and they cannot err in executing it. 153 

An example of typical enthusiastic behaviour, characteristic of early 
Methodists, is to open the Bible at hazard, as Dinah does in Adam 
Bede, and take the first text one's eyes fall upon as a revelation from 
God to be followed in one's present difficulty. More often God speaks 
directly to the enthusiast's mind, as when Dinah receives the pleasant 
spiritual monition to marry Adam. Forgetting that people may have 
very sublime feelings despite their erroneous theories, Locke says 
such enthusiasts, because of their ignorance, vanity, or laziness, never 
subject their supposed revelations to the trial of reason. 

Immediate revelation being a much easier way for men to establish their 
opinions and regulate their conduct, than the tedious and not always suc- 
cessful labour of strict reasoning, it is no wonder that some have been 
very apt to pretend to revelation, and to presuade themselves that they are 
under the peculiar guidance of heaven in their actions and opinions, espe- 
cially in those of them which they cannot account for by the ordinary 
methods of knowledge and principles of reason. Hence we see, that, in all 
ages, men in whom melancholy has mixed with devotion, or whose con- 
ceit of themselves has raised them into an opinion of a greater familiarity 
with God, and a nearer admittance to his favour than is afforded to others, 
have often flattered themselves with a persuasion of an immediate inter- 
course with the Deity, and frequent communications from the Divine 
Spirit. 154 

The origins and effects of enthusiasm are hardly different in Hume's 
definition which should for its similarity be read along with the pas- 
sages from Locke's Essay. Hume writes : 

But the mind of man is also subject to an unaccountable elevation and 
presumption, arising from prosperous success, from luxuriant health, 
from strong spirits, or from a bold and confident disposition. In such a 
state of mind, the imagination swells with great, but confused concep- 
tions, to which no sublunary beauties or enjoyments can correspond. 

153. Essay, IV, xix, 6. 154. Essay, IV, xix, 5. 



156 John Locke and English Literature 

Every thing mortal and perishable vanishes as unworthy of attention. And 
a full range is given to the fancy in the invisible regions or world of spirits, 
where the soul is at liberty to indulge itself in every imagination, which 
may best suit its present taste and disposition. Hence arise raptures, trans- 
ports, and surprising* flights of fancy; and confidence and presumption 
still encreasing, these raptures, being altogether unaccountable, and seem- 
ing quite beyond the reach of our ordinary faculties, are attributed to the 
immediate inspiration of that Divine Being, who is the object of devotion. 
In a little time, the inspired person comes to regard himself as a dis- 
tinguished favourite of the Divinity; and when this frenzy once takes 
place, which is the summit of enthusiasm, every whimsy is consecrated: 
Human reason, and even morality are rejected as fallacious guides: And 
the fanatic madman delivers himself over, blindly, and without reserve, to 
the supposed illapses of the spirit, and to inspiration from above. Hope, 
pride, presumption, a warm imagination, together with ignorance, are, 
therefore, the true sources of Enthusiasm. 155 

In establishing the authenticity of what appears to be a revelation, 
instead of being persuaded by "the conceits of a warmed or over- 
weening brain," 156 we must, Locke said, let reason be "our last judge 
and guide." 157 Reason demonstrates that God does not generally in- 
form men without offering at the same time definite evidence that 
the revelation is from Himself. 

Thus we see the holy men of old, who had revelations from God, had 
something else besides that internal light of assurance in their own minds, 
to testify to them that it was from God. They were not left to their own 
persuasions alone, that those persuasions were from God, but had outward 
signs to convince them of the Author of those revelations. And when they 
were to convince others, they had a power given them to justify the truth 
of their commission from heaven, and by visible signs to assert the divine 
authority of a message they were sent with. Moses saw the bush burn 
without being consumed, and heard a voice out of it: this was something 
besides finding an impulse upon his mind to go to Pharaoh, that he might 
bring his brethren out of Egypt: and yet he thought not this enough to 
authorize him to go with that message, till God, by another miracle of his 
rod turned into a serpent, had assured him of a power to testify his mis- 
sion, by the same miracle repeated before them whom he was sent to. 

155. "Of Superstition and Enthusiasm": Essays Moral, Political, and Literary, ed. 
Green and Grose, I, 145. 

156. Essay, IV, xix, 7. 157- Essay, IV, xix, 14. 



Of Knowledge and Probability 157 

Gideon was sent by an angel to deliver Israel from the Midianites, and yet 
he desired a sign to convince him that this commission was from God. 
These, and several the like instances to be found among the prophets of 
old, are enough to show that they thought not an inward seeing or per- 
suasion of their own minds, without any other proof, a sufficient evidence 
that it was from God; though the Scripture does not everywhere mention 
their demanding or having such proofs. 158 

When the Holy Spirit does enlighten men's minds "without any 
extraordinary signs accompanying it," we may in such a revelation 
still be guided by reason and the authority of the Scriptures, "un- 
erring rules to know whether it be from God or no." 159 

The conservative opinion of writers of literature that the Deity was 
not constantly speaking to men and intervening in the affairs of this 
world, is reflected in the popularity of the saying in Horace's Art of 
Poetry, 

Nee deus intersit, nisi dignus vindice nodus 
Incident, 160 

repeated by Steele, 161 Addison, and Fielding In Jonathan Wild we 
read : 

Our hero having with wonderful resolution thrown himself into the sea, 
as we mentioned at the end of the last chapter, was miraculously within 
two minutes after replaced in his boat; and this without the assistance of 
a dolphin or a seahorse, or any other fish or animal, who are always as 
ready at hand when a poet or historian pleases to call for them to carry a 
hero through the sea, as any chairman at a coffee-house door near St. 
James's to convey a beau over a street, and preserve his white stockings. 
The truth is, we do not choose to have any recourse to miracles, from the 
strict observance we pay to that rule of Horace, 

Nee Deus intersit, nisi dignus vindice nodus. 162 

With this precept of Horace as a motto, Addison wrote a paper for 
the Spectator ridiculing those who imagined that every trial and afflic- 
tion were arranged by God to punish man personally for his sins, that 

158. Essay, IV, xix, 15. 159. Essay, IV, xix, 16. 

160. De Arte Poetica, 19 1-2. 

161. Christian Hero, 2nd ed., London, 1701, p. 60. 

162. Fielding, Jonathan Wild, bk. II, cap. 12: Worhjs, ed. Browne, IV, 201-02. 



158 John Locke and English Literature 

every barn burned was a testimony of divine wrath against the 
wicked. 163 Only enthusiasts interpreted each singular event and every 
impulse of the mind as a revelation from on high. 

While the word enthusiasm applies in a literal sense only to revela- 
tion arid matters of religion, as Locke has used it in the Essay con- 
cerning Human Understanding, its meaning has been broadened by 
some to the extent of saying the "definition of Enthusiasm is that it 
is the negation of the eighteenth century point of view," 164 which 
would imply that the temperament of this century was one of unre- 
lieved frigidity. Such misrepresentation is inevitable when it is sup- 
posed that the Eighteenth Century was anathematizing with the ex- 
pression enthusiasm anything other than certain religious excesses, 
especially an absurd credulity in matters of revelation. Writers, with 
few exceptions, reserved the word for this purpose, though they were 
not all so careful as Sterne to follow Locke's interpretation. Faith, 
Sterne said, is defined by enthusiasts "not as a rational assent of the 
understanding, to truths which are established by indisputable au- 
thority, but as a violent persuasion of mind, that they instantaneously 
become the children of GOD." 166 In another sermon he makes it 
equally clear that he considered enthusiasts those who believed God 
was constantly directing their thoughts. 

The last mistake which I shall have time to mention, is that which the 
methodists have revived, for 'tis no new error — but one which has misled 
thousands before these days whenever enthusiasm had got footing, — and 
that is, — the attempting to prove their works, by that very argument 
which is the greatest proof of their weakness and superstition; — I mean 
that extraordinary impulse and intercourse with the Spirit of God which 
they pretend to, and whose operations (if you trust them) are so sensibly 
felt in their hearts and souls, as to render at once all other proofs of their 
works needless to themselves. — This, I own, is one of the most summary 
ways of- proceeding in this duty of self-examination; and, as it proves a 
man's works in the gross, it saves him a world of sober thought and in- 
quiry after many vexatious particulars. 166 

163. Spectator, No. 483. 

164. J. E. V. Crofts, "Enthusiasm," Eighteenth Century Literature: An Oxford 
Miscellany, p. 133. 

165. "On Enthusiasm": Sermons, II, 196. 

166. "Self -Examination": Sermons, I, 166. 



Of Knowledge and Probability 159 

By enthusiasm Sterne obviously meant only that unreasonable faith 
in divine illuminations indulged by Methodists, Quakers 167 and simi- 
lar religious sects. In his Dictionary Johnson gives as the first meaning 
of enthusiasm, "a vain belief of private revelation," and he cites a 
sentence from Locke to illustrate this usage. This is the sense in which 
Bolingbroke uses the term in the following passage: 

Our Quakers, our Methodists, and Enthusiasts of every sort and in every 
religion, are confirmed ... in the belief that the spirit of God descends 
upon them, is inspired into them, excites and enlightens their minds, and 
enables them by it's powerful operation to utter all the extravagancies, 
which are in their opinion so many divine truths. 168 

If other writers did not always use the word enthusiasm to designate 
an ungrounded belief in revelation, nevertheless they most generally 
applied the term to some form of religious extravagance. Swift char- 
acterized a certain group of prophets with the phrase, "ridiculous 
deluded enthusiasts," 169 and further designated as enthusiasm the 
sexual orgies of various religious cults. 170 Enthusiasm to Chesterfield 
meant crusades 171 and missions, 172 while Fielding used the word to 
define the extreme antithesis of atheism. 173 He also observed that 
Heartfree's over-confidence in a future life was touched with enthu- 
siasm, 174 although this was exactly the faith to be embraced in the 
Night Thoughts. If such assurance in immortality is enthusiastic, 
then, Edward Young would say, 

... all are weak, 
But rank enthusiasts. To this godlike height 
Some souls have soar'd. 175 

Without more illustrations it is evident that the word enthusiasm was 
generally used only to describe religious extravagances, particularly 
the unwarranted belief of numerous sects that God was ever reveal- 
ing divine truths to them, his chosen vessels. The Eighteenth Cen- 

167. "Humility": Sermons, II, 50. 168. Works, III, 469. 

169. Bickerstaff Pamphlets: Prose Works, ed. Temple Scott, I, 306. 

170. "Discourse concerning the Mechanical Operation of the Spirit": Prose Works, 
ed. Temple Scott, I, (i9i)-2io. 

171. Letters to His Son, II, 37. Letter 126. 172. Ibid., II, 312. Letter 180. 

173. Tom Jones, bk. II, cap. 5: Works, ed. Browne, VI, 91. 

174. Jonathan Wild, bk. Ill, cap. 2: Works, ed. Browne, IV, 217. 

175. Night Thoughts, VI, 603-05. 



+S 



160 John Locke and English Literature 

tury by its usage of this term does not indicate an opposition to every 
imaginable emotional expression. It is further apparent that enthu- 
siasm, defined as religious excess, was decried by all those writers 
whose opinion we esteem, — all, with the possible exception of Edward 
Young, whose isolation from the popular currents of philosophical 
thought is well reflected in the lonely drama of his Night Thoughts. 
The subject of enthusiasm, and the discussion of probability and 
faith, have carried us far from the consideration of actual knowledge, 
which, it may be repeated, remains extremely limited. A principal 
object of the Essay concerning Human Understanding is to make us 
\ realize "what a darkness we are involved in, how little it is of Being, 
\ and the things that are, that we are capable to know." 176 Despite the 
discord and controversy surrounding many statements in the Essay, 
there was a universal assent to Locke's main thesis that the human 
understanding is imperfect and that knowledge has its restrictions. 
Even in Martinus Scriblerus, where no pains are spared in ridiculing 
the subtleties of the Essay, it is allowed that "in human understand- 
ings" there are "potential falsities." 177 Isaac Watts, after exerting all 
his philosophical powers to show the great capacities of the mind and 

(the breadth of our knowledge, came no less certainly to the conclu- 
sion that the human understanding is for ever limited. In his youth 
he had complained : 

I hate these Shackles of the Mind 

Forg'd by the haughty Wise; 
Souls were not born to be confin'd, 
And led like Sampson Bound and Blind. 178 

At this period in his thinking Watts was not unlike Blake, who at 
the close of the century wrote with bitterness : 

Thus the terrible race of Los & Enitharmon gave 

Laws & Religions to the sons of Har, binding them more 

And more to Earth, closing and restraining, 

Till a Philosophy of Five Senses was complete. 

Urizen wept & gave it into the hands of Newton & Locke. 179 

176. Essay, IV, iii, 29. 

177. Martinus Scriblerus: Pope, Wor\s s ed. Elwin and Courthope, X, 313. 

178. "Free Philosophy": Hora Lyricw, London, 1706, p. 154. 

179. "Song of Los": Poetry and Prose, ed. Geoffrey Keynes, London, 1927, p. 274. 



Of Knowledge and Probability 161 

But later Watts patiently submitted to wear the shackles of the mind, 
and in the pages of his own philosophy admonished the young: 

Do not expect to arrive at Certainty in every Subject which you pursue. 
There are a hundred Things wherein we Mortals in this dark and imper- 
fect State must be content with Probability, where our best Light and 
Reasonings will reach no further. 180 

With his characteristic facility for sharpening ideas to a piercing 
point, Pope gave an acute expression to the universal consciousness of 
ignorance. 

Tell, for you can, what is it to be wise ? 
'Tis but to know how litde can be known. 181 

Bolingbroke, his confederate, was particularly wise in the ways of 
human ignorance, which was in itself no small cause for pride and 
vanity, for 

This is learned ignorance, of which the greatest philosophers have no rea- 
son to be ashamed. "Rationem — harum gravitatis proprietatum ex phae- 
nomenis nondum potui deducere, et hypotheses non fingo," said our 
Newton, after having advanced natural knowledge far beyond his con- 
temporaries, on the sure foundations of experiment, and geometry. How 
preferable is this learned ignorance to that ignorant learning, of which so 
many others have foolishly boasted? 182 

"The human mind," said Johnson, "is so limited, that it cannot take 
in all the parts of a subject, so that there may be objections raised 
against any thing." Lest we think Johnson is speaking unphilosophi- 
cally here, let us add the rest of the passage. "There are," he continues, 
"objections against a plenum, and objections against a vacuum; yet 
one of them must certainly be true." 183 By his own nature sensitive to 
a degree and given to a melancholy, Johnson was all too well pre- 
pared to adopt the philosophy of the day which told how strange are 
the forms about one and how little man knows of the life he leads in 
this miraculously created body. 

1 80. Improvement of the Mind, Part I, cap. 14: ed. 1741, pp. 206-07. 

181. Essay on Man, IV, 260-1. 182. Wor\s, III, 393. 
183. Boswell, Life of Johnson, ed. Hill and Powell, I, 444. 



1 62 John Locke and English Literature 

There are (said he) innumerable questions to which the inquisitive mind 
can in this state receive no answer: Why do you and I exist? Why was 
this world created? Since it was to be created, why was it not created 
sooner? 184 

This same enigma of existence Butler states with what we hope is 
philosophical and not personal anxiety. "The whole end," he says, 
"for which God made, and thus governs the world, may be utterly 
beyond the reach of our faculties: there may be somewhat in it as 
impossible for us to have any conception of, as for a blind man to 
have a conception of colours." 185 Whatever individual expressions 
the notion of the limitation of knowledge may have taken, the con- 
viction itself belonged to all and characterized the entire age. There 
is no better proof of this than the obvious popularity of the numerous 
remedies for human ignorance we have just been discussing, analogy 
and probability, and the less acceptable nostrum enthusiasm. 

Amid the doubts and uncertainties attending human understand- 
ing, man was, nevertheless, to discover unsuspected security. The 
statements of human ignorance throughout the Essay are not more 
startling than Locke's frequently repeated assurance that morality is 
"amongst the sciences capable of demonstration." 1 ** 

The idea of a supreme Being, infinite in power, goodness, and wisdom, 
whose workmanship we are, and on whom we depend; and the idea of 
ourselves, as understanding, rational creatures, being such as are clear in 
us, would, I suppose, if duly considered and pursued, afford such founda- 
tions of our duty and rules of action as might place morality amongst the 
sciences capable of demonstration: wherein I doubt not but from self- 
evident propositions, by necessary consequences, as incontestible as those 
in mathematics, the measures of right and wrong might be made out, to 
any one that will apply himself with the same indifferency and attention 
to the one as he does to the other of these sciences. 187 

The reason that morality can attain the same certainty of mathe- 
matics is easily explained in the Essay. Since there is in the realm of 
nature perhaps nowhere a perfect square, the idea of this figure is 
wholly the invention of the mathematician. He himself makes the 
complex idea; he alone decides what ideas shall be contained in a 

184. Boswell, Life of Johnson, ed. Hill and Powell, III, 342. 

185. Analogy, I, ii, 3. 186. Essay, IV, iii, 18. 187. Ibid. 



Of Knowledge and Probability 163 

perfect square. Having therefore all the ideas in his own mind, the 
mathematician can demonstrate with exactitude what such a square 
is. A natural science, on the contrary, cannot be brought to such cer- 
tainty, for it must always be dependent upon substances of which 
man has no complete knowledge. But in mathematics, where one is 
under no obligation to follow nature, squares and circles may be de- 
vised at pleasure, and, after the ideas they shall contain have been 
chosen, one may demonstrate the relation, or agreement and disagree- 
ment of these ideas, to an exactitude equalling perfect knowledge. 
Since morality, like mathematics, is wholly an invention of the hu- 
man mind, the idea of truth can become as certain a part of human 
knowledge as that of a perfect square. Moral ideas, to follow Locke's 
words, 

being combinations of several ideas that the mind of man has arbitrarily 
put together, without reference to any archetypes, men may, if they please, 
exactly know the ideas that go to each composition, and so both use these 
words in a certain and undoubted signification, and perfectly declare, 
when there is occasion, what they stand for. 188 

Since in the formation of moral ideas, such as truth and falsehood, 
man has a free hand, these ideas can be demonstrated with the same 
precision that a mathematician can explain a perfect square. 

One might, however, understand perfectly what truth, falsehood, 
and other moral terms signify, without knowing one or the other to 
be right or wrong. Human actions become morally good or evil only 
by referring them to that divine law which unquestionably exists. 

That God has given a rule whereby men should govern themselves, I 
think there is nobody so brutish as to deny. He has a right to do it; we 
are his creatures: he has goodness and wisdom to direct our actions to 
that which is best: and he has power to enforce it by rewards and pun- 
ishments of infinite weight and duration in another life; for nobody can 
take us out of his hands. This is the only true touchstone of moral recti- 
tude; and, by comparing them to this law, it is that men judge of the most 
considerable moral good or evil of their actions; that is, whether, as duties 
or sins, they are like to procure them happiness or misery from the hands 
of the Almighty. 189 

188. Essay, III, xi, 15. 189. Essay, II, xxviii, 8. 



164 John Locke and English Literature 

This divine law of God, to which man is to relate his moral ideas, 
has "by an inseparable connexion, joined virtue and public happiness 
together, and made the practice thereof necessary to the preservation 
of society." 190 To be specific, we can define with precision what truth 
and its opposite falsehood are, and we can see that God has so created 
the world that the one fosters and the other destroys life. Therefore 
since we can explain moral ideas with mathematical accuracy and 
we know by experience which of these God has made beneficial to 
society, morality becomes a science capable of exact demonstration. 

From whence it is obvious to conclude, that, since our faculties are not 
fitted to penetrate into the internal fabric and real essences of bodies; but 
yet plainly discover to us the being of a God, and the knowledge of our- 
selves, enough to lead us into a full and clear discovery of our duty and 
great concernment; it will become us, as rational creatures, to employ 
those faculties we have about what they are most adapted to, and follow 
the direction of nature, where it seems to point us out the way. For it is 
rational to conclude, that our proper employment lies in those inquiries, 
and in that sort of knowledge which is most suited to our natural capaci- 
ties, and carries in it our greatest interest, i.e. the condition of our eternal 
estate. Hence I think I may conclude, that morality is the proper science 
and business of mankind in general. 191 

Though the Eighteenth Century had been forbidden perfect 
knowledge in most matters, it was offered morality as a positive sci- 
ence if men would but bestow upon it their thought and effort. 
Locke's dictum was repeated in the Spectator, 192 while Bolingbroke, 
who denied our knowledge of God's moral attributes, courted incon- 
sistency far enough to say, "I consider theology, and ethics as the first 
of sciences in pre-eminence of rank." 193 Since moral definitions, how- 
ever, share the natural imperfections of language, he would not allow 
that this science can attain mathematical certainty. 194 But Sterne, who 
has been almost constantly faithful to Locke, preserves on this signifi- 
cant issue his fidelity and confidence. Locke's philosophy, he said, is 
"a sacred philosophy, which the world must heed if it is to have a 
true universal religion, a true science of morals, and which man must 

190. Essay, I, ii, 6. 191. Essay, IV, xii, 11. 192. Spectator, No. 373. 

193. Worlds, III, 327. 194. Ibid., Ill, 429. 



Of Knowledge and Probability 165 

heed also if he is to gain real command over nature." 195 Though we 
would not readily think of Sterne as a specialist working in a labora- 
tory of morals, yet his own practice and words record his belief that 
truths relative to conduct can be demonstrated. "There is no need," 
he told his congregation, "that the everlasting laws of justice and 
mercy should be fetched down from above, — since they can be proved 
from more obvious mediums." 196 Yorick's sermons are evidence in 
themselves that he accompanied Locke in supposing morality to be 
the proper study and business of man, for they deal, not with theo- 
logical and metaphysical speculations, but with the human problems 
of living implied in the topics happiness, philanthropy, evil-speaking, 
self-examination, pride and the like. The prevalence of the theme of 
conduct in all Sterne's religious utterances proves that he was pro- 
fessing the new science established by Locke's Essay. 

With the assurance that man can possess certain knowledge in all 
matters regarding his actions in this world and that at least one sig- 
nificant science in life is capable of exact demonstration, there is more 
inclination to acquiesce in Locke's belief that 

The infinite wise Contriver of us, and all things about us, hath fitted our 
senses, faculties, and organs, to the conveniences of life, and the business 
we have to do here. We are able, by our senses, to know and distinguish 
things: and to examine them so far as to apply them to our uses, and sev- 
eral ways to accommodate the exigences of this life. We have insight 
enough into their admirable contrivances and wonderful effects, to admire 
and magnify the wisdom, power, and goodness of their Author. Such a 
knowledge as this, which is suited to our present condition, we want not 
faculties to attain. But it appears not that God intended we should have a 
perfect, clear, and adequate knowledge of them: that perhaps is not in 
the comprehension of any finite being. We are furnished with faculties 
(dull and weak as they are) to discover enough in the creatures to lead 
us to the knowledge of the Creator, and the knowledge of our duty; and 
we are fitted well enough with abilities to provide for the conveniences 
of living: these are our business in this world. 197 

195. Quoted in W. L. Cross, Life and Times of Laurence Sterne, p. 302, from D-J. 
Garat, Memoires Historiques sur le XVIH e . Steele, et sur M. Suard, II, 149. 

196. "Advantages of Christianity to the World": Sermons, II, 61. 

197. Essay, II, xxiii, 12. 



1 66 John Locke and English Literature 

Our senses of hearing and sight, dull as they are, respond with the 
proper degree of sensitivity to our physical surroundings, for 

in this globe of earth allotted for our mansion, the all-wise Architect has 
suited our organs, and the bodies that are to affect them, one to another. 
If our sense of hearing were but a thousand times quicker than it is, how 
would a perpetual noise distract us. And we should in the quietest retire- 
ment be less able to sleep or meditate than in the middle of a sea-fight. 
Nay, if that most instructive of our senses, seeing, were in any man a thou- 
sand or a hundred thousand times more acute than it is by the best micro- 
scope, things several millions of times less than the smallest object of his 
sight now would then be visible to his naked eyes, and so he would come 
nearer to the discovery of the texture and motion of the minute parts of 
corporeal things; and in many of them, probably get ideas of their internal 
constitutions: but then he would be in a quite different world from other 
people: nothing would appear the same to him and others: the visible 
ideas of everything would be different. So that I doubt, whether he and 
the rest of men could discourse concerning the objects of sight, or have 
any communication about colours, their appearances being so wholly dif- 
ferent. And perhaps such a quickness and tenderness of sight could not 
endure bright sunshine, or so much as open daylight; nor take in but a 
very small part of any object at once, and that too only at a very near dis- 
tance. And if by the help of such microscopical eyes (if I may so call them) 
a man could penetrate further than ordinary into the secret composition 
and radical texture of bodies, he would not make any great advantage by 
the change, if such an acute sight would not serve to conduct him to the 
market and exchange; if he could not see things he was to avoid, at a 
convenient distance; nor distinguish things he had to do with by those 
sensible qualities others do. 198 

The suitability of the senses of hearing and sight to the needs of hu- 
man life, as stated in this section of the Essay, was repeated in Thom- 
son's Summer. 

Nor is the stream 
Of purest crystal, nor the lucid air, 
Though one transparent vacancy it seems, 
Void of their unseen people. These, concealed 
By the kind art of forming Heaven, escape 
The grosser eye of man: for, if the worlds 

198. Essay, II, xxiii, 12. 



Of Knowledge and Probability 167 

In worlds inclosed should on his senses burst, 
From cates ambrosial and the nectared bowl 
He would abhorrent turn; and in dead night, 
When Silence sleeps o'er all, be stunned with noise. 199 

When Pope asserted in the Essay on Man the fitness of man's sight 
to the human state, he very probably was paraphrasing the same 
passage of the Essay. 

The bliss of man (could pride that blessing find) 

Is not to act or think beyond mankind; 

No pow'rs of body or of soul to share, 

But what his nature and his state can bear. 

Why has not man a microscopic eye? 

For this plain reason, man is not a fly. 

Say what the use, were finer optics giv'n, 

T' inspect a mite, not comprehend the heav'n? 200 

Speaking to the same purpose regarding man's faculty of hearing, 
Pope seems to remember the words of Thomson as well as of Locke. 

If nature thundered in his op'ning ears, 
And stunned him with the music of the spheres, 
How would he wish that heav'n had left him still 
The whisp'ring zephyr, and the purling rill? 201 

Thomson had said man would shrink abhorrent from dainties and 
wine were his sight fine enough to discover the minute details of their 
composition. Fortunately he had not the macabre imagination of 
Swift, whose Gulliver, while he stayed among the huge Brobding- 
nags, enjoyed a microscopic sight which nothing could escape. 

The nurse to quiet her babe made use of a ratde, which was a kind of 
hollow vessel filled with great stones, and fastened by a cable to the child's 
waist: but all in vain, so that she was forced to apply the last remedy by 
giving it suck. I must confess no object ever disgusted me so much as the 
sight of her monstrous breast, which I cannot tell what to compare with, 
so as to give the curious reader an idea of its bulk, shape and colour. It 
stood prominent six foot, and could not be less than sixteen in circumfer- 

199. Summer, 308-17. 200. Essay on Man, I, 189-96. 

201. Ibid., I, 201-04. 



168 John Locke and English Literature 

ence. The nipple was about half the bigness of my head, and the hue both 
of that and the dug so varified with spots, pimples and freckles, that 
nothing could appear more nauseous: for I had a near sight of her, she 
sitting down the more conveniendy to give suck, and I standing on the 
table. This made me reflect upon the fair skins of our English ladies, who 
appear so beautiful to us, only because they are of our own size, and their 
defects not to be seen but through a magnifying glass, where we find by 
experiment that the smoothest and whitest skins look rough and coarse, 
and ill coloured. 202 

If Locke's statement of the propriety of our senses for the concerns 
of life was not sufficiently emphatic, Swift's enlightening observa- 
tions should establish the conviction. 

The parallel conclusion, that man's imperfect knowledge is suited 
as well as the senses for "our business in this world," was accepted by 
the rulers of Lilliput, who, 

since government is necessary to mankind, . . . believe that the common 
size of human understandings is fitted to some station or other, and that 
Providence never intended to make the management of public affairs a 
mystery, to be comprehended only by a few persons of sublime genius, of 
which there seldom are three born in an age. 203 

In the field of the sciences a man might, Pope believed, master his 
subject if he would not attempt to understand the incomprehensible. 

Nature to all things fixed the limits fit, 

And wisely curbed proud man's pretending wit. 



One science only will one genius fit; 
So vast is art, so narrow human wit: 
Not only bounded to peculiar arts, 
But oft in those confined to single parts. 
Like kings we lose the conquests gained before, 
By vain ambition still to make them more 
Each might his sev'ral province well command, 
Would all but stoop to what they understand. 204 

202. Gulliver's Travels: Prose Worlds, ed. Temple Scott, VIII, 93-4. 

203. Ibid., VIII, 60. 204. Essay on Criticism, 52-3, 60-7. 



Of Knowledge and Probability 169 

The same theory of the sufficiency of human knowledge for the 
affairs of the world was the theme of Bolingbroke's philosophy, sum- 
marized by Chesterfield for his son's benefit in the following sen- 
tences: 

I have read his Philosophical Essay upon the extent of human knowledge, 
. . . He there shows very clearly, and with most splendid eloquence, what 
the human mind can, and cannot do; that our understandings are wisely 
calculated for our place in this planet, and for the link which we form in 
the universal chain of things; but that they are by no means capable of 
that degree of knowledge, which our curiosity makes us search after, and 
which our vanity makes us often believe we arrive at. 205 

Despite his confidence that human understanding and knowledge 
suffice for the duties of life, Locke could not suppress a desire for 
fuller wisdom. Since perfect knowledge appeared to him an impossi- 
bility in this earthly state, his thoughts throughout the Essay are fre- 
quently directed towards the next world, where he believed man's 
understanding would assume that excellence belonging to an im- 
mortal condition. Perfect knowledge! Locke speculated — 

Such, if I may guess at things unknown, I am apt to think that angels have 
now, and the spirits of just men made perfect shall have, in a future state, 
of thousands of things which now either wholly escape our apprehensions, 
or which our short-sighted reason having got some faint glimpse of, we, in 
the dark, grope after. 206 

Addison cherished the hope that in after life the faculties of the hu- 
man mind would become more like those of spiritual beings higher 
in the vital scale. 

The object is too big for our capacity, when we would comprehend the 
circumference of a world, and dwindles into nothing, when we endeavour 
after the idea of an atom ... we may well suppose that beings of a 
higher nature very much excel us in this respect, as it is probable the soul 
of man will be infinitely more perfect hereafter in this faculty, as well as 
in all the rest; insomuch that, perhaps, the imagination will be able to keep 
pace with the understanding, and to form in itself distinct ideas of all the 
different modes and quantities of space. 207 

205. Letters to His Son, IV, 43. Letter 270. 

206. Essay, IV, xvii, 14. 207. Spectator, No. 420. 



170 John Locke and English Literature 

To the statements of the philosopher and the critic regarding the 
intellectual amendments to be expected in a future state, may be 
added the opinion of Isaac Watts, the divine, who reveals the same 
concern for the mind's improvement after death. 

But if we can know nothing further of our Souls, i.e. of Ourselves, in this 
embodied and obscure State, than meerly to say we are Thinking Beings, 
if it is not allow'd us to be further acquainted with our own Essence or 
our Natural Powers, if we can never find out how our Spirits form their 
Ideas, or exert their Freedom of Will, how we move our Bodies or change 
our Relations of Place, it becomes us to lie humble at the Foot of our 
Maker, the Infinite and Almighty Spirit, and to content ourselves under 
our present Ignorance. . . . And when we shall have travel'd over the 
Stage of Time, by the Light and Influence of this Knowledge, we shall 
forsake at once these Scenes of Mortality and Shadows; we shall change 
this dusky Region for a brighter. 208 

The smarting consciousness of the inferiority of man's mental endow- 
ments and the deficiencies of his knowledge which Locke's philoso- 
phy had awakened in the Eighteenth Century, was assuaged by the 
belief that a state of intellectual perfection would be attained after 
the mind had passed beyond the limitations of human understanding. 

208. Philosophical Essays, Preface. 



INDEX 



Abuse of words, 112. 

Adam Bede, 155. v 

Addison, Joseph, 40, 59, 61, 86, 95, 100, 
112, 126, 130, 157, 164; Locke's cham- 
pion, 11; on worship, 29; on imagina- 
tion, 55; on size of object and idea, 57; 
on wit, 64; on brutes, 71, 80; on pleas- 
ure and pain, 82; on secondary quali- 
ties of matter, 94; on Locke's study of 
words, 103; on language, in; on 
chain of life, 142; on the idea of God, 
147; on knowledge after death, 169. 

Age of Reason, 1 1 1 . 

Akenside, Mark, 12, 56, 61, 129; on Dry- 
den and Locke, 7; on wit, 65. 

Alma, 10. 

Angels, 140. 

Anti-Lucretius, 35, 80; on matter think- 
ing, 126. ^ 

Arbuthnot, Dr. John, 10. 

Aristode, 10, 13, 32. 

Arnold, Matthew, 48. 

Association of ideas, 128. 

Bacon, Francis, 13, 25, 26, 30, 50, 60, 63, 

114, 124, 129 n 41, 130 n 47, 147, 

149; on brutes, 70; on reason and 

faith, 154. 
Battle of the Boo\s, 9. 
Beauclerk, Topham, 140. 
Becker, Carl, 44 n 91, 150 n 131. 
Beggar's Opera, 79, 135. 
Berkeley, George, 6, 50, 140; college in 

Bermuda, 27; and Locke compared on 

substance, 97; Johnson on, 137. 
Bible, 17, 154, 155, 157; faultiness of its 

language, no. 
"Bibliographical Introduction to the 

Study of John Locke" (H. O. Christo- 

phersen), 5 n 33, 20. 
Blackmore, Richard, 12, 34, 47, 53 n 23, 

61, 65; and Locke, n; Creation and. 

Locke's philosophy, 31. 
Blake, William, 160. 
Blind man (Locke's), 106. 
Boccaccio, 129. 



Boileau, 45. 

Bolingbroke, Lord, 1, 15, 16, 34, 42, 50, 
53, 122, 123, 164; describes Locke's 
Essay, n; on brutes, 70, 74, 78, 81; on 
language, in; on matter thinking, 
125; on chain of life, 142, 144, 146; on 
God's attributes, 148; on enthusiasm, 
159; on limitation of knowledge, 161; 
his philosophy summarized by Ches- 
terfield, 169. 

Books of travel, 24, 28, 29. 

Boswell, James, 38 n 72, 41, 54, 73, 106 
n 14, 116, 136; on association, 135. 

Boyle, Robert, 1, 30, 60. 

Browne, Sir Thomas, 154. 

Brutes, reason in, 68; reasoning elephants, 
78; how man differs from, 79. 

Budgell, Eustace, 30. 

Burke, Edmund, 115. 

Burnet, Bishop, 72. 

Burns, Robert, 44, 55. 

Burton, John, 6. 

Butler, Joseph, 27, 52, 62, 73, 152; on 
personal identity and immortality, 101; 
on limitation of knowledge, 162. 

Cambridge University, 6, 15. 

Candide, 20, 26. 

Caroline, Queen, 1. 

Chain of life, 141. 

Chaucer, 129. 

Chesterfield, Lord, 13, 16, 39, 45, 48, 53, 
159; the Letters and Locke's tabula 
rasa, 38; on mental equality, 42; sum- 
marizes Bolingbroke's philosophy, 169. 

Christophersen, H. O., 5 n 33, n n 72, 
20. 

Cicero, 30. 

Clark, John, 108. 

Clarke, John, 32 n 49, 

Clarke, Dr. Samuel, 1. 

Collins, Anthony, 6. 

Covent-Garden Journal, 2, 113. 

Cowper, William, 28, 38 n 72. 

Creation, n, 34, 47, 53 n 23; and Locke's 
philosophy, 31. 



172 



John Locke and English Literature 



Critique of Pure Reason, 52. 

Cross, W. L., 17 n 106, 54 n 30, 133. 

Dean(e), Rev. Richard, 73. 

Declaration of Independence, 44, 58. 

Defoe, Daniel, 147. 

Del Techo, Nicholaus, 29. 

Democracy, intellectual, 39; and proba- 
bility, 152. 

De Principiis Cogitandi, 35, 53. 

Descartes, 10, 45, 50; Voltaire on, 19; 
and reason in brutes, 70, 72, 77, 78. 

Destouches, Philippe, 3. 

Dialogue between Loc\e and Montaigne, 
10, 69, 145. 

Dictionary (Johnson's), 108, 116, 159. 

Diderot, Denis, 106 n 14. 

Donne, John, 31, 33. 

Dryden, John, 11, 33, 40, 128, 154; and 
Locke, 7, 8; on worship, 29; on wit, 64. 

Earle, John, 33. 

Education, 13, 130; and the theory of the 

tabula rasa, 25, 36. 
Edwards, Jonathan, 7. 
Eliot, George, 155. 
Enthusiasm, 154. 
Epicurus, 11. 
Essay on Man, 15, 42, 46, 76, 91 n 188, 

167; and chain of life, 145. 
Essay upon the Education of Youth, 32 

n49. 

Fable of the Bees, 78; philosophy of, 25. 

Fables (Gay's), 76, 78. 

Faith, reason and, 152. 

Fausse Agnh, 3. 

Ferriar, John, 79 n 147. 

Fielding, Henry, 2, 16, 35, 48, 53, 54, 55, 
59. 63, 74, 80, 98, 117, 149, 152, 157, 
159; on imagination, 57; and Locke's 
blind man, 107; on abuse of words, 
112, 113. 

Fontenelle, 77. 

Fowler, Thomas, 5 n 32. 

Fraser, A. C, 1 n, 5 n 27, 20 n 6, 43, 84 
n 172, 125 n 26. 

Gay, John, 135; on brutes, 76, 78, 79. 
Gibbon, Edward, 6, 15, 38; on innate 
ideas, 23. 



God, no innate idea of, 28; Blackmore on 
the idea of , 3 1 ; Addison on the idea of, 
58; and pleasure and pain, 82; knowl- 
edge of, 146; First Cause, 146; attri- 
butes of, 147; revelations from, 152, 
156; moral law of, 163. 

Goldsmith, Oliver, 16, 27, 61, 149; on 
Locke in France, 4; on Locke's style, 
5; on mental equality, 40; on wit, 66; 
on brutes, 75, 77, 80. 

Gosse, Edmund, 5 n 28. 

Government, 13, 44, 168. 

Gray, Thomas, 44, 53, 149; versification 
of Locke's Essay, 1, 16; use of Locke 
in "Ode on Eton," 35. 

Grenville, Lord, 6 n 34. 

Guardian, 71 n 107; on secondary quali- 
ties of matter, 95. 

Gulliver's Travels, 9, 28, 40, 75, 92, 107, 
124, 167, 168. 

Helvetius, 41. 

Herbert of Cherbury, 28. 

Hervey, James, 38 n 72. 

Hind and the Panther, 8. 

History, 150. 

Hobbes, Thomas, 24, 25, 128, 147. 

Holbach, Baron von, 144. 

Hooker, Richard, 32. 

Horace, 45, 67, 114, 157. 

Howard, Sir Robert, 33. 

Hume, David, 47, 48, 74, 152; compares 
Addison and Locke, 11; on the Eight- 
eenth Century's study of human na- 
ture, 13; "Of the Dignity or Meanness 
of Human Nature," 14; and Locke 
compared on substance, 97; on enthu- 
siasm, 155. 

Idea, definition of, 49; usage of word 
"idea," 54; size of object and, 57. 

Ideas, no innate ideas, 19; simple ideas of 
sensation, 51; simple ideas of reflection, 
61; simple ideas of sensation and re- 
flection, 81; complex ideas, 83. 

Imagination, 55. 

Immortality, 169; Butler on, 62, 10 1; 
and immateriality of the soul, 125. 

Jefferson, Thomas, 44. 

Johnson, Samuel, 6, 16, 38 n 72, 47, 



106 n 14, 108, 116, 150, 152, 159; on 
the Eighteenth Century's interest in 
psychology, 12; on innate ideas, 27; on 
mental equality, 41; rules for the poet, 
59; on wit, 66; on brutes, 73, 81; on 
matter thinking, 126; on Berkeley, 
136; experiments in natural philoso- 
phy, 139; on limitation of knowledge, 
161. 

Jonathan Wild, 157, 159. 

Joseph Andrews, 59. 

Judgment, wit and, 62. 

Karnes, Lord, 27. 

Kant, 52. 

Kaye, F. B., 16 n 95. 

King Arthur, 11. 

Knowledge, limited to simple ideas, 82, 
135; defined, 119; foes of, 120; extent 
of, 135; of self, 136; of material sub- 
stance, 136; of angels, 140; of God, 
146; limitation of, 160; sufficiency of, 
165; after death, 169. 



La Bruyere, 45. 

Lang, Andrew, 5 n 31. 
> Law, William, 28. 

Leibniz, 33, 43, 47. 

Letter on the Blind, 106 n 14. 

Letters concerning the English Nation, 3. 

Literature, and philosophy, 7; Locke on 
poetry, 7; psychology in, 11; sensation 
hi» 13, 59; rules for writing, 59; -prose 
preferred to poetry, 67; the fable, 76; 
"stream of consciousness" novels and 
Locke's association of ideas, 133; Swift 
on poetic invention, 135. 

Locke, John, popularity in England, 
1725-65, 1; in the universities, 1, 6; 
Pope on, 1; Watts on, 1, 14, 50, 109 
n 25; Bolingbroke on, 1, 42; Gray on, 
1; Sterne on, 2, 17, 68, 164; Warbur- 
ton on, 2; in France, 3, 52; Voltaire 
on, 3, 74; Lang on, 5; Akenside on 
Locke and Dryden, 7; and Dryden, 8; 
and Swift, 9; Prior on, 10; and Addi- 
son, 1 1 ; Hume on, 1 1 ; and Blackmore, 
11; Fielding on, 16, 113; Goldsmith 
on, 16; Shaftesbury on, 24, 28; Budgell 
on, 30 ; Blackmore on, 3 1 ; Chesterfield, 



Index 173 

on, 39, 43, 45; Thomson on, 60; 
Swift on, 116; Blake on, 160. 
Essay concerning Human Understand' 
ing, Gray's versification of, 1, 16, 35; 
editions of, 2; style of, 5; religious con- 
troversy surrounding, 5, 20; in the uni- 
versities, 1, 6; aspects of its influence, 
13; Watts's use of, 15. BOOK I, no 
innate ideas, 19; speculative principles, 
21; moral principles, 23; idea of God, 
28; tabula rasa, 32; mental equality, 
39; ruling passions, 45. BOOK II, 
definition of idea, 49; no ideas without 
consciousness, 49; sensation, 51; sim- 
ple ideas of sensation, 51; reflection, 61; 
simple ideas of reflection, 61; wit and 
judgment, 62; reason in brutes, 68; 
simple ideas of sensation and reflection, 
81; pleasure and pain, 82; knowledge 
limited to simple ideas, 82; complex 
ideas, 83; modes of unity, space, dura- 
tion, pleasure and pain, and power, 84; 
notions, 92; substances, 93; relations, 
97; personal identity, 99. BOOK III, 
origin of words, 104; abstraction, 105; 
names for simple ideas undefinable, 
106; Locke's blind man, 106; names 
for complex ideas confusing, 109; 
abuse of words, 112; rhetoric, 114; 
definition, 116. BOOK IV, knowledge 
defined, 119; reason, 119; foes of 
knowledge, 120; imperfections of the 
mind, 121; limitations of perception 
and memory, 123; matter thinking, 
124; association of ideas, 128; knowl- 
edge of self, 136; knowledge of mate- 
rial substance, 136; natural philosophy 
no science, 137; knowledge of angels, 
140; chain of life, 141; knowledge of 
God, 146; probability, 149; history, 
150; reason and faith, 152; enthusiasm, 
154; limitation of knowledge, 160; 
morality a science, 162; sufficiency of 
knowledge, 165; knowledge after 
death, 169. 

Reasonableness of Christianity, 154. 
Thoughts concerning Education, and 
Pamela, 1, 16, 34, 37, 39; and innate 
ideas, 25, 36. 
Treatise of Government {Second), 44. 



174 



John Locke and English Literature 



Logick. (Watts's), 15. 
Lucretius, 11. 



Mackenzie, Henry, 35, 134. 

Maistre, Comte de, 52. 

Malebranche, 7, 45, 63, 77, 122. 

Man of Feeling, 35, 134. 

Mandeville, Bernard, 15, 25, 48; on 
brutes, 78. 

Martinus Scriblerus, 11, 36, 93 n 197, 93 
n 198, 96, 99, 100, 105, 116, 160. 

Masham family, 9. 

Mason, John, 129 n 41. 

Matter, primary and secondary qualities 
of, 93; thinking, 124; knowledge of, 
136. 

Memoirs (Gibbon's), 23. 

Methodists, 155, 158. 

Millar, Andrew, 16. 

Milton, John, 7, 12, 43, 80. 

Mind, Eighteenth Century's interest in, 
11; Watts on, 14; the "satanists" on, 
15; Locke's followers on, 16; minds of 
children and savages, 21; as tabula 
rasa, 32; equality in, 39; no subcon- 
scious, 49; passive in reception of sim- 
ple ideas of sensation, 51; powers of 
reflection, 61; imperfections of, 121; 
limitations of perception and memory, 
123; possibly material, 124; association 
a fault of, 129. 

Molyneux, William, 6. 

Montaigne, 10. 

Moral Essays, 12, 46, 93. 

Morality, no innate ideas of, 23; divides 
man from beast, 80; notions, 92; for- 
mation of moral ideas, 98; names for 
moral ideas, 116; a science, 162. 

Morley, John, 41. 

Newton, Isaac, 1, 4, 43, 45, 60, 160, 161. 
Night Thoughts, 126, 145, 159. 

"Ode on Eton," 35. 

Oxford University, 15; and the teaching 
of Locke, 6. 

Paine, Thomas, 15, 151; on size of object 
and idea, 58; on language of Bible, 
in; on abuse of words, 113, 115. 



Pamela, 1, 13, 16, 37, 39, 67, 146; and 
the tabula rasa, 34. 

Pascal, 123, 154. 

Passions, ruling, 20, 45, 95, 121; varia- 
tions of pleasure and pain, 91. 

Personal identity, 99. 

Philosophical Essays (Watts's), 15. 

Philosophy, vogue in Eighteenth Century, 
1; opposition in literature to, 8; divi- 
sion of Eighteenth-Century writers ac- 
cording to, 14; natural philosophy no 
science, 137. 

Pitt, William, 135. 

Plato, 6, 30, 53. 

Pleasure and pain, function of, 82; pas- 
sions derived from, 91. 

"Pleasures of Imagination" (Addison's), 
"» 55- 

Pleasures of Imagination (Akenside's), 
56, 61, 65. 

Polignac, Cardinal de, 35, 80, 126. 

Pope, Alexander, 1, 6 n 34, 10, 11, 12, 
15, 21, 40, 42, 53, 59, 93, 95, in, 112, 
140, 147, 161, 168; on ruling passions, 
46; on wit, 63, 65, 66, 67; on brutes, 
74, 76, 78; -on the passions, 91; on 
chain of life, 142, 145, 146; on suita- 
bility of senses to this life, 167. 

Porten, Miss Catharine, 38. 

Priestley, Joseph, 140. 

Prior, Matthew, 69, in, 145; on Locke, 
10. 

Probability, 149. 

Psychology, in Eighteenth -Century litera- 
ture, 11. 

Quakers, 159. 

Queensberry, Duchess of, 1. 
Quincy, Rev. Samuel, 73. 

Rambler, 73. 

Rasselas, 59, 81; on matter thinking, 126. 

Reason, and passion, 47; Sterne on, 60, 
119; in brutes, 68; defined, 119; and 
faith, 152. 

Reflection, 61. 

Religion, religious controversy surround- 
ing Locke's Essay, 5, 20; divides man 
from beast, 80; natural religion, no. 

Revelation, 152, 156. 

Rhetoric, 114. 



Index 



175 



Richardson, Samuel, 1, 13, 16, 34, 37, 39, 

53, 67, 146. 
Robinson Crusoe, 147. 
Roe, Sir John, 33. 
Ruling passions, 20, 95, 121; Locke and 

Pope on, 45. 
Rysbrack, J. M., 1. 

Saunderson, Nicholas, 106 n 14. 

School-Mistress, 131. 

Scriblerus Club, 11, 116; on personal 
identity, 99, 100; on abstracting, 105. 

Seasons, 16, 38, 60, 62, 143, 166. 

Self -Knowledge, 129 n 41. 

Sensation, 51; in literature, 54. 

Senses, suitability to this life, 165. 

Sensibility, 54. 

Sentimental Journey, 77, 134, 147. 

Sermons (Sterne's), 48, 95, 137, 138, 
158, 165. 

Shaftesbury, Third Earl of, 66, 79; on 
Locke, 24, 28. 

Shakespeare, 12, 43, 134. 

Shenstone, William, 131. 

Sheridan, Thomas, 116. 

Sidney, Sir Philip, 7. 

Smith, Adam, on the teaching of philoso- 
phy in English universities, 6; on men- 
tal equality, 43. 

Smollett, Tobias, on rhetoric, 115, 

Southey, Robert, 144. 

Spectator, 11, 29, 30, 64, 82, 86, 94, 100, 
112, 130, 145 n 105, 157, 164. 

Spenser, Edmund, 70. 

Stael, Mme de, 106 n 14. 

Steele, Richard, 157. 

Stephen, Leslie, 28. 

Sterne, Laurence, 2, 5, 13, 37, 48, 54, 95, 
98, 113, 147; describes Locke's Essay, 
12; states his debt to Locke, 17; on the 
reception of ideas, 56; on size of object 
and idea, 58; on reason, 60, 119; on 
wit and judgment, 67; on brutes, 77; 
follows Locke's idea of time in Tris- 
tram Shandy, 86; on rhetoric, 114; on 
definition, 117; use of association of 
ideas, 120, 132; on causes of obscure 
knowledge, 122; on matter thinking, 
125; on the mysteries of the physical 
world, 137; on enthusiasm, 158; on 
the science of morality, 164. 



Stewart, Dugald, 8 n 51; on Locke's 

study of words, 103. 
Stillingfleet, Edward, 8. 
Suard, J. B. A., 17. 
Substance, 93; spiritual not less real than 

material, 96; Hume and Berkeley on, 

97- 
Swift, Jonathan, 1, 8, 10, 15, 23, 40, 92, 
1.07, 116, 135, 159, 168; and Locke, 9; 
on books of travel, 28; on the tabula 
rasa, 33; on brutes, 74, 75, 76; descrip- 
tion of struldbrugs, 124; on matter, 
137; on suitability of senses to this 
life, 167. 



Tabula rasa, 20, 23, 32, 

Tatler, 107. 

Temple, Sir William, 9. 

Thackeray, W. M., 11 n 68. 

Thales, 13. 

Thomson, James, 12, 16, 38, 54, 56, 79; 
manner of writing and Locke's phi- 
losophy, 60; on reflection, 62; on wit, 
65; on chain of life, 142, 143; on suita- 
bility of senses to this life, 166. 

Tom Jones, 35, 54, 55, 57, 98, 107, 112, 
117. 

Trinity College, Dublin, 6. 

Tristram Shandy, 2, 37, 48, 67, 77, 79, 
98, 113, 114, 117, 120, 125, 137; and 
Locke's idea of time, 86; and the asso- 
ciation of ideas, 132. 



Vaughan, Henry, 20. 

Voltaire, 20, 50, 69, 140; on Locke, 3: 

on Descartes, 19; on innate ideas, 26; 

on brutes, 74. 



Waller, Edmund, 45. 

Walpole, Horace, 3 n 22, 150. 

Warburton, William, 2. 

Watts, Isaac, 1, 40, 108, 109 n 25, 112, 

v 126, 129, 160; position in Eighteenth- 
Century thought, 14; defends innate 
ideas, 22; on subconscious thought, 50; 
on imagination, 55; on size of object 
and idea, 57; on brutes, 72; on chain 
of life, 142, 144, 146; poem on Locke's 



176 



John Locke and English Literature 



faith, 152; on knowledge after death, 

170. 
Wesley, John, 28, 81; on chain of life, 

144; on reason and faith, 154. 
Wilkins, Bishop, 81. 
"Windsor Forest," 76. 
Wit, and judgment, 62. 
Wollaston, William, 1. 
Words, 133, 164; origin of, 104; formed 

by abstracting, 105; names for simple 

ideas undefinable, 106: names for com- 



plex ideas confusing, 109; abuse of, 

112; definition, 116. 
Wordsworth, 20, 45; on language, 104. 
Worship, 28. 



Yale University, 7. 

Young, Edward, 14, 126, 159; on size of 
object and idea, 57; on wit, 66; on 
brutes, 71, 80; on chain of life, 142, 
145, 146. 






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